Saints down Falcons; sweep season series

ATLANTA (Nov. 26, 2006) -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints did just fine without their top receiver.

The Atlanta Falcons are still looking for someone who can catch the ball.

Brees went deep on the third play of game to Marques Colston 's backup, delivered another long touchdown on a desperation throw at the end of the first half and put up another 300-yard performance in Sunday's 31-13 victory.

Coming in with three losses in four games, the Saints (7-4) stunned the Falcons right away with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson, who started in place of the injured Colston.

"It was a great way to start the game," said Brees, who completed 21-of-30 for 349 yards -- his fifth straight game eclipsing 300 yards.

The Saints finished off the first half with another big play. Brees threw it up toward the end zone, and Terrance Copper managed to haul in a 48-yard TD with three defenders around him.

"I just jumped up and tried to catch it," Copper said. "It was a good throw by Drew. It just fell in my hands."

As for the Falcons, they hardly caught anything in their fourth straight setback, which knocked them below .500 for the first time in Jim Mora's three seasons as coach.

Not even a 166-yard rushing performance by Michael Vick could bail out the Falcons (5-6), who dropped at least five passes. As he walked off the field, getting booed by the few fans who remained, Vick made an obscene gesture.

"We've just got to keep fighting," he said. "There's a lot of guys in that locker room who've never been in this situation."

The Falcons' signature play came early in the fourth quarter, when Roddy White let the ball slip from his hands at the New Orleans 10 with no one around him after Atlanta had closed to 21-13.

Coach Jim Mora fell to his knees in disbelief. Tight end Alge Crumpler held up his arms and looked toward the roof of the Georgia Dome.

"I just turned up and tried to run with the ball I caught it," White said. "I took my eyes off it."

The Saints had no such trouble.

Leading 14-6, New Orleans had the ball at the Atlanta 48 with 7 seconds remaining. Brees dropped back and let go a towering pass toward the end zone, the sort of desperation throw that is usually knocked down.

But Copper slipped between Derrick Johnson and Lawyer Milloy, making the catch as he fell across the goal line. DeAngelo Hall also leaped at the ball, but got there too late.

"There's a guy (Hall) who's the designated tipper," Milloy said. "The other guy (Johnson) is supposed to be blocking him out. I'm the back tipper. For whatever reason, the guy caught the ball."

The Falcons trotted off the field to a round of boos after the extra point.

"Out of all the things that happened in this game, that may have been the thing that took the life out of this football team," Vick said.

It only got worse in the second half, with Atlanta's receivers playing like they rubbed down their hands with Vaseline.

"We've got to start making some plays," Vick said, shaking his head.

Brees managed to avoid the interceptions that plagued him in losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

"That will be the emphasis from here on out," said Brees, who was picked off three times in each of those two games. "When we don't commit turnovers, it gives us a great chance to win."

After White's drop, the Saints finished off the Falcons with John Carney's 25-yard field goal and Deuce McAllister 's second touchdown run, a 9-yarder with 2:23 remaining.

Vick challenged his NFL record for yards rushing by a quarterback, coming up 7 short of his 173-yard performance in an overtime victory at Minnesota in 2002. But the Falcons' passing game is a mess, with Vick finishing 9-of-24 for 84 yards.

The Saints swept the season series by a combined score of 54-16, having also won easily in Week 3 -- their first game back in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans had emotion on their side in that one. This time, all the Saints needed was the Falcons on the other side.

Notes: The Falcons rushed for 281 yards -- the second-best showing of the season -- largely because of Vick. ... Atlanta DE John Abraham wasn't very effective in his return from abdominal surgery, failing to show up on the defensive stats. ... Johnson broke his right arm while covering a punt in the second half and didn't return. ... New Orleans CB DeJuan Groce sustained a neck injury while blocking a punt return early in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative.

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