NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints got it done with defense.

They're headed to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs thanks to a 31-26 victory over Carolina in which they put the clamps on comeback-minded quarterback Cam Newton. The home team sealed the victory Sunday with a 17-yard sack of Newton on fourth down, the din practically lifting the roof of the Superdome.

The Saints, who were 3-0 against the Panthers this season, play at Minnesota on Sunday — a rematch of a season opener the Vikings won, 29-19.

It was the revived New Orleans defense that slammed the door on the Panthers, but quarterback Drew Brees had a spectacular game, too. He threw for 376 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to former Carolina receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

But the Panthers hung around thanks in large part to the play of Newton, who threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns but was sacked four times.

A huge hit in the fourth quarter sidelined Newton for a play in the fourth quarter — he had to stop and sit on his way off the field — but he cleared concussion protocol and was allowed to resume playing.

That decision will likely be scrutinized because it came nine days after the NFL revised its concussion protocol and would "require a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g. stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand)."

It did not appear that Newton was taken to the locker room before being allowed to re-enter.