Posted: Dec 13, 2010 8:42 AM by Posted by Sharlee Barriere
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - While Drew Brees and the Saints have rattled off six-straight victories, they've put together another streak that should serve notice to the rest of the NFL about New Orleans' prospects for defending its Super Bowl title.
The Saints hit the 30-point mark for a fifth straight game with a 31-13 defeat of the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, a performance similar to efforts last season's squad often turned in while leading the league in scoring.
The defense made big plays with three sacks and three turnovers that included safety Malcolm Jenkins' first career touchdown on a 96-yard interception return. The offense was as diverse and unpredictable as it was productive, accounting for 345 yards and 24 points.
"It was a matter of getting into a rhythm," said Brees, who was 25 of 40 for 221 yards, three TDs and two interceptions. "We're just trying to get guys in and for everybody to find their role. When you look at our tight end group and our four wide receivers and our stable of running backs, we can just do a lot with our personnel."
The Saints (10-3) have played much of the season without running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, who are often at their best when catching the ball out of the backfield.
Bush returned from a Week 2 right leg injury on Thanksgiving and Thomas returned from his sprained left ankle Sunday against St. Louis after a nine game absence.
Nine of Brees' completions went to Bush and Thomas. Six other completions were spread among tight ends Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas and Jimmy Graham.
The Saints rushed for 132 yards, helped by the return of Thomas, who had 39 yards on the ground to go with his 29-yards receiving.
"I was surprised to get as many touches as I did, but I knew they were going to test me and see if I was ready," Thomas said. "The ankle wasn't giving me any problems. I felt great out there."
With the Saints running well and Brees hitting so many targets, a couple of wideouts were bound to get open. Lance Moore had five catches for 70 yards, including a 31-yard TD. Marques Colston caught five passes for 46 yards and two scores.
"Fortunately, we are getting healthy at a good time," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Each week we just have to pay attention to the plan and who we are playing and how we want to utilize not only the running backs, but the other players that are healthy."
The Saints took the early lead because of a fast start by Brees, who completed 13 of his first 15 passes and threw two of his three touchdown passes in the first quarter.
Jenkins' two interceptions helped the lead stand up. His touchdown came right after the Rams had recovered Courtney Roby's fumble on a kickoff return, giving St. Louis the ball at the New Orleans 21, in prime position to cut into what was then a 14-6 lead.
Instead, Jenkins made it 21-6 at halftime, and his second-half interception squelched any hope the Rams had of coming back.
Rams rookie Sam Bradford scored the only St. Louis touchdown on a short keeper after the game was out of reach. He passed for 231 yards but his day was marred by the two interceptions deep in Saints territory.
"I've got to be better when we're down there and I've got to be smarter with the football," Bradford said. "I just can't make those mistakes."
Steven Jackson rushed for 96 yards but turned the ball over once on a fumble caused by Roman Harper and recovered by Jabari Greer, stalling a promising drive across midfield.
"It was uncharacteristic for us today to not take care of the football," Jackson said. "(The Saints) created turnovers and created a lot of pressure for us. It made it hard for us to get in to a rhythm."
Although the Rams (6-7) fell below .500, they remained in a first-place tie in the NFC West with Seattle (6-7), which lost at San Francisco.
That means St. Louis could host New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs if the Rams win their division and the Saints are unable to overtake Atlanta (11-2) in the NFC South.
"I know there's plenty of scenarios," Brees said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes and we can't worry about that."