(Reuters) - Drew Brees tossed three touchdown passes and the red-hot New Orleans Saints romped to a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions in a National Football League wild-card shootout on Saturday.
The Saints, Super Bowl champions two years ago, raced into the post-season as the NFL's hottest team and rode that momentum to a ninth-straight win to set up a divisional showdown against the San Francisco 49ers on January 14.
Only four quarterbacks have ever passed for over 5,000 yards in a single NFL season and two of them, Brees and Lions Matthew Stafford, were on the field in New Orleans promising a night of offensive fireworks at the Louisiana Superdome.
As usual, it was Brees at the controls of the NFL's top offence providing most of the pyrotechnics as the Saints attack piled up a post-season record of 626 total yards.
Brees, who set the new single season passing mark, zeroed in on some playoff records completing 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards - the second most ever in the NFL post-season.
After a slow start, the Saints were unstoppable in the second half where Brees had all his touchdown passes, including a 56-yarder to Robert Meachem and a 41-yard strike to Devery Henderson as New Orleans outscored Detroit 35-14 over the final two quarters.
Jimmy Graham was also on the receiving end of a Brees touchdown pass while Darren Sproles ran for a pair of scores and Pierre Thomas added one late in the game.
Stafford provided his share of thrills completing 28 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, including two to the NFL's leading receiver Calvin Johnson and another to Will Heller.
The Lions pounced early, Stafford hitting Heller with a 10-yard touchdown strike to cap an opening 80-yard drive quieting a Superdome crowd that had come ready to party.
In the second quarter, Brees had New Orleans's powerhouse attack back in gear, marching the Saints 89 yards with the diminutive Sproles scampering the final two yards to open the second quarter.
But Detroit quickly regained control, Johnson hauling in a 13-yard pass to restore the Lions lead.
Brees was sharp in the opening half completing 17-of-21 passes but could not find the end zone, the Saints settling for a 24-yard John Kasay field to send New Orleans into the intermission trailing 14-10.
But Brees came out gunning in the second half finding Henderson with a 41-yard bomb then followed up the quick strike score with a long drive and a short touchdown pass to Graham.
The Lions refused to fold, Stafford engineering and 80-yard drive diving over from the one to chop the New Orleans advantage to three going into the final quarter.
But the Lions had no answer for the explosive Saints high-octane attack, Sproles running 17 yards for his second of the game and Brees going long to Meachem to seize command 38-21.
Stafford would hook up with Johnson to keep up hope for a miracle comeback before the Saints Pierre Thomas dove in from the one to seal the victory.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)