NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees played four touchdown passes for inexperienced receivers and the New Orleans Saints won their tenth consecutive game Thursday night with a 31-17 victory over Atlanta, eliminating the Falcons from the NFC South.
Tommylee Lewis and Austin Carr each one picked up his second career touchdown pass, and tight end rookie Dan Arnold grabbed his first as well as the novice receiver Keith Kirkwood. All four have joined the NFL as freelancers for the past three years and have combined zero touchdowns this season before Carr took the first of his career last Sunday.
"It says a lot about them. It says a lot about seizing the opportunity and increasing when we need to," Brees said of his latest touchdown goals. "It's fun to watch them grow and gain confidence. We're building chemistry, which usually takes time, right?" But they were pushed into this role. "
Meanwhile, the Falcons (4-7) have lost three fumble within the Saints 20 – something no team in New Orleans (10-1) can afford this season.
"The defense played a lot today against a really explosive attack," Brees said. "They have four turnovers. That's a huge statistic in the game."
Atlanta Quarterback Matt Ryan was stripped for safety Marcus Williams in a third and two of Santos 3 and Williams has recovered to end the opening of Atlanta. Julio Jones was stripped by the linebacker Alex Anzalone after a capture in New Orleans 17, and security Vonn Bell recovered in the final minute of the second quarter to preserve a 17-3 lead that enters the range.
"Every time you get a turnover when you're in a threatening position – just do the numbers, do the math," said Sean Payton, coach of Saints.
The New Orleans defense, which had six sacks in the season, continued to make big plays in the second half. Anzalone broke a room pass down in the third quarter and linebacker A.J. Klein intercepted a defensive defense pass Tyrier Davison in the bedroom.
The interception gave the Saints ownership at Atlanta 22, setting up the 4-yard TD from Kirkwood.
Only by good measure, Marshon Lattimore stripped Calvin Ridley No 1 dos Santos, after a 29-yard final, looked like he would end up with a touchdown about four minutes from time. Defensive backs Eli Apple recovered that.
"When you have a turnover (in the red zone), it looks like a lot," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We had three down there and that was the real story of the game."
Ryan was under pressure all night from a Santos defense, which was reinforced by the return of the first round of draft Marcus Davenport of a finger injury that took him away for three games. Cameron Jordan had two bags, while Williams, P.J. Williams, Sheldon Rankins and Demario Davis each had one.
Ryan finished 35 of 47 for 377 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But very little came easy. Your first TD pass, for Calvin Ridley, came in a quarter and goal 2 at the end of the third quarter.
Atlanta ran only 26 yards, while New Orleans ended with 150, led by Alvin Kamara89 and Mark Ingram52.
Statistically, Brees did not have one of his most impressive games, completing 15 of 22 passes for 171 yards with his second interception of the season. The choice was stolen by Damontae Kazee, his sixth NFL leader this year.
But Brees' ability to play with the strengths of unknown receivers allowed the Saints to profit from scoring opportunities.
Lewis, a third-year pro, was in his first game back after spending nine weeks in the injured reserve and had not secured a pass all season before being left open for his 28-yard attempt that made it 7-0 in the first series of the game. Carr is a sophomore professional who played in just one game without being a rookie. He was also wide open after Falcons defenders bite a fake transfer to Ingram. Kirkwood made his NFL debut three games ago when Arnold had his first career reception.
"Obviously, Drew is someone who is very confident in the preparation, confident in players around him. There's a lot going on here," Payton said. "I'm excited for those guys who have opportunities."
Linebacker Falcons Kemal Ismael was helped out of the field in the third quarter after a punt.
Falcons hosts Baltimore on December 2.
Saints visit Dallas on Thursday night.
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