CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) In the two weeks since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the New Orleans Saints visited shelters to lift the spirits of fans who lost everything in the storm.

Now the Saints are continuing that work on the field.

The Saints won Sunday for their deluged city and the displaced victims of the storm, getting a pair of touchdowns from Deuce McAllister and a 47-yard field goal by John Carney with 3 seconds left to beat the Carolina Panthers 23-20.

“We really felt like we were representing the Gulf area, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, all the people down there,” tight end Ernie Conwell said. “We heard from people when we got into the hotel yesterday: ‘I might not have my house, but I got my Saints.’ Football means something to these people.”

The Saints responded by scoring an important victory against an NFC South rival, rushing the field to celebrate Carney’s winning kick. Afterward, they gave out two game balls, one to New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and the second to victims of the Aug. 29 storm.

“It’s been emotional for us, but we’re not in the same situation as the people in those shelters,” offensive lineman Wayne Gandy said. “It was a good break for us to just be able to go out and play football, but it’s not all about us anymore.”

New Orleans led most of the way, opening the game with a businesslike drive lasting 91/2 minutes. McAllister touched the ball nine times on the drive, capping it with a 4-yard touchdown run.

McAllister added another score, a 2-yarder in the second quarter, to give the Saints a 14-7 lead they took into halftime.

Then, when the Panthers overcame a series of mistakes to tie it on John Kasay’s 46-yard field goal with 1:04 left, the Saints answered with a 49-yard drive with Aaron Brooks completing 11- and 25-yard passes to Joe Horn that set up Carney’s winner.

Carolina was sloppy in this one, with Jake Delhomme throwing two interceptions and the Panthers fumbling twice. But the Saints fumbled away both of Delhomme’s interceptions during the returns, and never were able to put away Carolina.

It’s still not clear where the Saints will play the bulk of their games this season. Their home opener is next week against the New York Giants, but will be played in the Meadowlands.

The Panthers got a pair of strong performances from Steve Smith and Stephen Davis, two of their stars from the Super Bowl run two years ago who missed most of last season with injuries. Davis ran for 81 yards and a touchdown, and Smith had eight catches for 138 yards and a score, but it wasn’t enough.

Smith just missed scoring at least four other times, being ruled out of bounds on three catches in the end zone. And his catch in the end zone at the end of the first half was ruled incomplete because he stepped out of bounds before he caught it.

The Panthers won’t have much time to correct those mistakes. They play New England here next week.

“It’s the first game, a home game, the Saints,” safety Mike Minter said. “You’ve got to win that one and we didn’t do that. It’s not going to get any easier as we go on.”


The Saints had at least 350 fans, courtesy of Panthers players who donated their tickets to evacuees staying at the Charlotte Coliseum. … The Panthers also collected $176,000 in donations during the game for the relief effort. … Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins left with a sprained right knee. … Conwell had six catches for 71 yards, then left the game with a concussion and displaced jaw after a hard tackle by Marlon McCree and Minter. … New Orleans rookie Jammal Brown did an outstanding job on Carolina end Julius Peppers, limiting him to six tackles and no sacks.

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