ATLANTA (AP) — Garrett Hartley's 41-yard field goal stretched New Orleans' lead over the Atlanta Falcons to 17-13 in the third quarter as the Saints' defense stiffened on Thursday night.
Hartley's field goal produced the only points of the quarter. Drew Brees threw a 35-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to set up the field goal. Graham pushed safety Thomas DeCoud out of the way with a stiff-arm and then ran through the attempted tackle by safety William Moore before he was stopped at the Atlanta 27.
Brees threw touchdown passes to Graham, for 44 yards, and Ben Watson, for 1 yard, in the first half. Graham dragged Falcons safety William Moore the final few yards into the end zone for the second-quarter touchdown. The big tight end then celebrated with a dunk over the crossbar.
Graham grabbed the crossbar with both hands for a couple seconds, causing it to lean slightly. There was a delay for a few minutes while a stadium worker carried a ladder onto the field and corrected the problem.
Matt Bryant kicked field goals of 39 and 24 yards in the second quarter to keep the Falcons close. The 24-yard field goal capped a long drive that lasted almost half of the period. The Falcons held the ball for 14 plays, 74 yards and 7 minutes, 31 seconds.
Steven Jackson powered over the line for his first touchdown with Atlanta to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead. Brees responded by leading a 15-play touchdown drive that ended with the scoring pass to Watson.
There were no turnovers in the half. Jackson has struggled at times after missing four games and most of a fifth with a hamstring injury, but the 30-year-old former Rams standout finally ran for his first touchdown with the Falcons.
Jackson had five carries for 24 yards on the opening drive, including back-to-back 8-yard runs to start the possession. He had nine carries for 37 yards in the half. Matt Ryan's 22-yard pass to Jacquizz Rodgers gave the Falcons a first down at the Saints 9. On second down from the 6, Ryan passed to Darius Johnson, who reached over the goal line for an apparent touchdown. Following a lengthy review, officials said Johnson's knee was down at the 1. Jackson took care of the final yard with his dive over the top.
The Saints answered by converting five third downs on a 15-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with Brees' 1-yard scoring pass to Watson. Brees set up the touchdown with his 12-yard pass to Marques Colston over the middle to the Atlanta 3.
Brees had 63 yards passing in the quarter to pass Warren Moon for fifth place on the career yards passing list. New Orleans running back Darren Sproles, who missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday with ankle and knee injuries, was held out. Sproles is third on the team in rushing and receiving and is the team's top return specialist.
Also inactive for New Orleans was starting right guard Jahri Evans (ankle). Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant left the game with a thigh injury in the second quarter and returned in the third quarter.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org