EditorsNote: rewords second and fourth grafs; fixes “to make” in seventh graf
Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes, and the New Orleans defense forced four turnovers and suffocated the Atlanta running attack as the Saints won their league-best 10th consecutive game with a 31-17 victory over the visiting Falcons on Thursday night.
Brees didn’t have to throw often — he completed 15 of 22 for 171 yards — because the Saints (10-1) controlled the ball on the ground with 150 yards, including 89 by Alvin Kamara and 52 by Mark Ingram II.
With the Falcons’ defense concentrating on trying to stop receiver Michael Thomas and Kamara, Brees’ four scoring passes went to four unheralded receivers: Tommylee Lewis for 28 yards, Austin Carr for 12, Dan Arnold for 25 and Keith Kirkwood for 5.
The improved New Orleans defense smothered the Atlanta running attack, allowing just 26 yards on 16 carries. The Saints also sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan six times and forced five Atlanta fumbles, recovering three, and intercepted Ryan once.
Brees’ third touchdown pass of the game — a 25-yard toss to Arnold on which the second-year tight end laid out in the end zone — put New Orleans up 24-3 with 5:59 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons (4-7) finally found the end zone late in the third quarter, converting a fourth-and-goal from the 2 when Ryan hit wide receiver Calvin Ridley for the score, cutting the deficit to 24-10.
However, Saints linebacker A.J. Klein picked off a batted pass at the Atlanta 22, and five plays later, Brees found Kirkwood for his first NFL touchdown, putting New Orleans up 31-10. Ryan threw a 4-yard scoring pass to Tevin Coleman with 1:15 left to make it 31-17.
The Saints dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first half, rushing for 101 yards while allowing the Falcons just 12 in racing to a 17-3 lead.
The Saints drove 75 yards on seven plays after the opening kickoff to lead 7-0, with Brees hitting a wide-open Lewis, just back from injured reserve, for a 28-yard touchdown.
The New Orleans defense supplied constant pressure on Ryan, who was sacked four times in the first half. The first sack was a strip by blitzing safety Marcus Williams, whose forced fumble on third-and-2 from the New Orleans 3 led to a Saints recovery.
Atlanta cut the margin to 7-3 on Matt Bryant’s 32-yard field goal, but the Falcons could have had more after driving to a first down at the New Orleans 11.
The Saints extended their lead to 10-3 on Wil Lutz’s 22-yard field goal. On that scoring drive, Saints tight ends Benjamin Watson and Arnold dropped potential touchdown passes.
Brees hit another wide-open receiver, Carr, for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Saints a 17-3 lead.
On their final series of the half, the Falcons drove the ball to the Saints 32, but Julio Jones was hit hard on a crossing route by linebacker Alex Anzalone and fumbled to end the threat.
—Field Level Media