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(Sunday, December 13th)
Final Score: New Orleans 26, Atlanta 23
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Drew Brees tossed three touchdown passes, and the New Orleans Saints remained undefeated on the season with a 26-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
Brees completed 31-for-40 passes for 296 yards, while Reggie Bush had two scoring receptions. Marques Colston caught the other for the Saints (13-0), who clinched a first-round bye with the win and a franchise record for wins in a season.
"It's big. We did it back in 2006 and it just gives the team a chance to rest up, get guys healthy and try to make a run," said Brees about clinching a first-round bye.
Bush finished the game with six catches for 46 yards and six carries for 33 yards, while Robert Meachem had four receptions for 57 yards for New Orleans, which set a franchise record for points with 466 on the season.
"It was a hard fought game today," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "It certainly feels good to get a win on the road. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we came up with a few plays at the end."
New Orleans joined the Colts, who took a 28-16 win over Minnesota on Sunday, to become the seventh team to start out a season 13-0. Also, the Saints hold a two-game lead over Minnesota for the top record in the NFC.
"We are really just focused on our next opponent and giving ourselves the best opportunity in the postseason," said Payton about being undefeated. "All of our focus will shift to a good, balanced team on a short week."
Chris Redman, playing his third straight game in place of an injured Matt Ryan, went 23-for-34 with 303 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Falcons (6-7), who have dropped their past two games to take a serious hit on their playoff chances. Jason Snelling had 10 carries for 37 yards and a score and added four catches for 65 yards in the loss.
"I think our team played very well against the New Orleans Saints today," said Redman. "We fought all the way until the end. It was a good game, but we fell just a little bit short."
Starting the second half with the ball, the New Orleans offense marched 80 yards over 10 plays and put the ball into the end zone, when Bush caught a pass in the right flat and followed his blockers into the end zone from 21 yards out for a 23-9 lead.
Atlanta answered quickly when Redman put a pass through the middle and over the head of the defender for Michael Jenkins, who caught the ball in stride and took it into the end zone on a 50-yard score to make it a 23-16 game with 6:11 left in the third.
The Falcons defense forced a punt from New Orleans, and the team got the ball back at its own 21. The drive spanned the third and fourth quarters and the team tied the game, as Snelling punched the ball into the end zone from four yards out with 12:56 to play.
Brees and New Orleans, though, answered the call and put together a drive that ate up over eight minutes of the clock and covered 63 yards on 16 plays. Garrett Hartley's 38-yard field goal with 4:42 to play gave the team a 26-23 lead.
The Saints defense came up with the first turnover of game on the second snap of Atlanta's ensuing drive, as Jonathan Vilma leaped in front of a pass and picked it off, giving New Orleans the ball back at the Atlanta 32.
The Atlanta defense did its job and forced a field goal attempt from New Orleans, which went for the fake. The pass to Darnell Dinkins was caught, but he was out of bounds and Atlanta had the ball back at its own 15 with 2:07 to play.
The Falcons quickly moved the ball close to midfield, but the Saints defense tightened up, and on 4th-and-2, Snelling caught a one-yard pass, but Vilma stopped him short of the first down, and New Orleans was able to run down the rest of the time to win the game and remain unbeaten.
"It was an angle route to get two yards," said Snelling about the play. "They read the route, and played it very well. I just came up short and couldn't make the play."
Atlanta started the game with the ball and put a field goal on the board thanks to a 36-yard boot by Matt Bryant. The big play of the drive was a 38- yard catch-and-run by Snelling.
New Orleans answered with a 33-yard field goal by Hartley after its drive stalled at the Atlanta 15.
The Falcons, though, got another field goal from Bryant, this one from 30 yards out with under a minute to play in the first quarter for a 6-3 lead.
However, the Saints took the lead on their next touch. With the ball near midfield, Brees and Meachem hooked up for a 42-yard play to get the ball down to the Atlanta 11. Three plays later, Brees threw a pass out to the right that Bush caught and took into the end zone from six yards out for a 10-6 lead with 9:43 to play in the first half.
After forcing a punt from Atlanta, New Orleans got the ball back at its own 34 with 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half. Facing a 3rd-and-5 near midfield, Brees' pass to Meachem went incomplete, but Brent Grimes was called for pass interference. Four plays later, Brees set up a 1st-and-goal with a 12-yard pass to Pierre Thomas. Three snaps later, Brees and Colston connected for a three-yard score. Hartley's extra point, though, bounced off the right post, and it was a 16-6 game with 51 seconds left.
The Falcons, though, had all three timeouts and used them to get down the field, and on the last play of the half a 27-yard field goal from Bryant made it a 16-9 game heading into the break.
New Orleans hosts Dallas on Saturday...The Falcons play at the New York Jets next Sunday...Atlanta leads the all-time series, 44-37, but New Orleans has taken seven of the past eight games...Brees has 32 touchdowns on the season...Thomas had 47 yards on 13 carries and six receptions for 53 yards...Vilma finished the game with seven tackles and an interception.
12/13 17:47:23 ET