ATLANTA (AP) — Drew Brees led two time-consuming field-goal drives before throwing his third interception to set up an Atlanta field goal that gave the Falcons a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
The New Orleans' defense held Atlanta without a first down for five straight possessions in a span that began early in the second quarter and carried through most of the third quarter. Garrett Hartley kicked field goals of 21 and 52 yards in the third quarter for New Orleans.
The Falcons looked dominant while building a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. Brees, who threw two first-half interceptions, regained his touch as the Saints scored 13 straight points. The first-down drought for Atlanta ended after William Moore intercepted Brees' pass late in the third quarter. Matt Ryan then completed an 18-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez and a 20-yard pass to Roddy White to set up Matt Bryant's 29-yard field goal, pushing the Falcons lead to sevens.
Michael Turner had a 3-yard scoring run in the first quarter, and Ryan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez early in the second quarter before the Falcons' offense stalled. The Falcons, motivated by four straight losses in their NFC South rivalry with New Orleans, took a 17-7 halftime.
Brees has been sharp against the Falcons, averaging 302.8 yards passing as the Saints won 11 of the last 13 in the series, including a 31-27 win in New Orleans on Nov. 11. Brees threw two interceptions before finally leading a touchdown drive late in the second quarter.
On third-and-9 from the Saints 21, Brees completed a 32-yard pass over the middle to Lance Moore. Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann drew an offside penalty on a third-down play from the Atlanta 26 to keep the drive alive.
Officials initially ruled Pierre Thomas scored on a 10-yard run, but a video review showed his knee was down before he crossed the goal line. Mark Ingram scored from the 1. Brees led the Saints on another drive but ran out of time. The half ended following Brees' fourth straight pass to running back Darren Sproles, this one inside the Falcons 5. With the Saints out of timeouts, Brees couldn't get his team back to the line before time ran out.
The Falcons made a strong statement on their first possession. Atlanta gained 71 yards on five straight running plays after opening the drive with a 9-yard pass from Ryan to Gonzalez. Turner started the spree with a 35-yard run. Jacquizz Rodgers had back-to-back 14-yard gains before Turner stormed in from the 3.
With his touchdown, Turner snapped a tie with former Falcons receiver Terance Mathis to set the franchise career record with 58 total touchdowns. Turner also has the team record with 57 rushing touchdowns. He caught his first career touchdown pass in Week 4 against Carolina.
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud intercepted a pass from Brees intended for Marques Colston in the end zone to end the Saints' first possession. In the second quarter, Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon intercepted a pass off running back Chris Ivory's hands, setting up Bryant's 45-yard field goal. The pass from Brees was behind Ivory.
Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel left the game after aggravating his right shoulder injury. Samuel had been listed as questionable with the injury, and he didn't make it through the Saints' opening drive.
Brees completed a 38-yard pass to Joseph Morgan on a third-down play. Samuel, who was covering Morgan, walked off the field with his right arm kept close to his chest. The Falcons listed Samuel's status as questionable. Robert McClain and Chris Owens took over for Samuel at cornerback.
Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas returned after leaving the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter.