Falcons drop the ball, fail to stop Saints
NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes and the New Orleans Saints won their 10th straight game Thursday night with a 31-17 victory over visiting Atlanta.
Tommylee Lewis and Austin Carr each caught their second career touchdown pass, while rookie tight end Dan Arnold and rookie receiver Keith Kirkwood grabbed their first.
‘‘It says a lot about them. It says a lot about taking advantage of the opportunity, and stepping up when we need it,’’ Brees said of his latest touchdown targets. ‘‘It’s fun to watch them grow and gain confidence. We’re building chemistry, which typically takes time, right? But they've been thrust into this role.’’
Meanwhile, the Falcons (4-7) lost three fumbles inside the Saints’ 20.
‘‘The defense played tremendous today against a really explosive offense,’’ Brees said. ‘‘They got four turnovers. That’s a huge stat in the game.’’
On Atlanta’s opening drive, quarterback Matt Ryan was stripped by safety Marcus Williams on a third and 2 from the Saints’ 3, with Williams recovering.
In the final minute of the second quarter, Julio Jones was stripped by linebacker Alex Anzalone after a catch on the New Orleans 17, and safety Vonn Bell recovered to preserve a 17-3 lead.
‘‘Any time you have a turnover when they’re in a threatening position — just do the numbers, do the math,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said.
The Saints’ defense, which had a season-high six sacks, continued to come up with big plays in the second half, with Anzalone breaking up a fourth-down pass in the third quarter and linebacker A.J. Klein intercepting a pass tipped by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison in the fourth.
The interception gave the Saints (10-1) the ball on the Atlanta 22, setting up Kirkwood’s diving 4-yard TD catch.
Just for good measure, Lattimore stripped Calvin Ridley on the Saints’ 1 after a 29-yard completion that looked as though it would end with a touchdown with about four minutes to go. Defensive back Eli Apple recovered that one.
‘‘When you have one turnover [in the red zone], it feels 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 Saints defense that was bolstered by the return of first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games.
Ryan finished 35 of 47 for 377 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
But very little came easy. His first TD pass, to Ridley, came on a fourth and goal from the 2 at the end of the third quarter.
Atlanta rushed for just 26 yards, while New Orleans finished with 150, led by Alvin Kamara’s 89 and Mark Ingram’s 52.
Statistically, Brees did not have an impressive game, completing 15 of 22 passes for 171 yards with his second interception of the season.
The pick was snagged by Damontae Kazee, his NFL-leading sixth this year.