Saints hand Falcons first loss

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 16, 2015 12:22 AM

(The Sports Xchange) - Drew Brees completed 30 of 39 passes for 312 yards and Benjamin Watson caught a key fourth-down touchdown pass in the third quarter to lift New Orleans to a 31-21 victory over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons on Thursday.

Saints tight end Watson pulled down 10 receptions for a career-high 127 yards.

The Saints (2-4) held the high-powered Atlanta offense 11 points under their 32.4-point average, forced two red-zone fumbles and blocked a punt for a touchdown.

New Orleans running back Mark Ingram scored twice on runs of two and one yards, and the Saints rolled up 207 yards of total offense and 17 points in the second half.

The key sequence came with the Saints leading 17-7 late in the third quarter. Brees moved the Saints to the Atlanta six, but New Orleans gained only two yards on three plays.

On fourth-and-goal from the four, instead of settling for a chip-shot field goal, Saints coach Sean Payton sent the offense back on the field.

Brees drew an encroachment penalty on defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman with a hard count, but the Saints still faced fourth down from the two. Brees faked a handoff to Ingram and Watson ran free in the back of the end zone to haul in an easy toss for a 24-7 lead.

The Falcons (5-1) had rallied for victories in the fourth quarter for four of their previous five wins, but they could not get closer than 10 points late in Thursday's game.

Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 30 of 44 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked five times and fumbled three times. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had three sacks.

BLOCKED PUNT

The Falcons moved the ball up and down the field in the first half, outgaining the Saints 265 yards to 174, but a blocked punt for a touchdown and two fumbles inside the Saints 15-yard line sent New Orleans into halftime leading 14-7.

The Saints took the opening kickoff 80 yards in 12 plays -- their only sustained drive of the half -- to take a 7-0 lead. Brees converted three third downs on the march, and his 24-yard strike to wide receiver Willie Snead set up the Saints at the Atlanta 2. Ingram scored on the next play on a good second-effort carry.

The Saints took their biggest lead of the season -- 14-0 -- when linebacker Michael Mauti broke up the middle to block Matt Bosher's punt at the Atlanta 4, and Mauti picked up the ball and dived into the end zone.

Ryan took the Falcons 80 yards in nine plays to cut the lead to 14-7 on a 7-yard pass to Roddy White in the left corner of the end zone. The wide receiver easily beat cornerback Brandon Browner on the throw.

The Falcons drove inside the Saints 15 on their next two possessions, but the drives ended with a fumble by running back Tevin Coleman and a bad shotgun snap by reserve center James Stone. The Saints failed to convert either turnover into points, however. New Orleans kicker Zach Hocker missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt late in the half.

(Compiled by Peter Rutherford)