Nov 4, 2009 1:00 AM by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Every time Drew Brees and the Saints' potent offense stumbles, New Orleans' resurgent defense is right there to pick up the slack.
The Saints intercepted three Matt Ryan passes, with Jabari Greer returning one 48 yards for the club's sixth defensive touchdown this season, and New Orleans stayed perfect with a 35-27 victory
over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.
"Obviously, the defense is playing great," Brees said.
"They're doing a great job of taking the ball away. Our scoring defense has been unbelievable. They've had the ability to create momentum for our side of the ball."
It's no wonder the Saints have matched the best start in franchise history at 7-0, something only the 1991 Saints had done before.
Greer's touchdown was the Saints' fifth score on an interception this season, tying a single-season franchise mark set in 1998. The Saints have at least one interception in every game this season and
a total of 16, one more than they had all of last season.
"The way we've been able to (get turnovers) and score is a big reason we're where we're at right now," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Tracy Porter's interception on the Saints' 1-yard line, on a pass tipped by Jonathan Vilma, preserved a 28-24, fourth-quarter lead after Pierre Thomas' fumble had given Atlanta the ball on at
the Saints' 35.
Still, the Falcons stayed in it until the end, getting a 40-yard field goal from Jason Elam with 28 seconds left, then recovering an onside kick. Ryan only had time for a desperation heave in the
final seconds, and Darren Sharper turned it into his seventh interception of the season.
With big plays on both sides of the ball, New Orleans has been able to get away with committing four turnovers against Miami and Atlanta in back-to-back weeks and still come away triumphant.
Brees, responsible for two turnovers against the Falcons, passed for 308 yards and two scores. Thomas scored two touchdowns to help atone for his fumble.
"We did a lot of things well and yet we did a lot of things that made it close at the end," Payton said. "I'm excited to win, though. ... It was an important game against a division team and
I'm proud of our players."
The Falcons, by contrast, have lost two straight for the first time under second-year coach Mike Smith in large part because they couldn't overcome their mistakes.
Ryan has now been intercepted at least twice in three straight games, but Smith said he's "not concerned at all."
"We're going to be judged on 16 games - not one game and not three games," he said.
The same applies to the Saints, of course, but as one of only two undefeated teams left in the NFL along with Indianapolis, New Orleans certainly has reason to be optimistic. And when Thomas
scored the Saints' final TD on a 1-yard catch, flipping backward over a tackler into the end zone, the Louisiana Superdome broke into chants of, "Who dat say they gonna' beat them Saints?"
Thomas scored his other touchdown on a tackle-slipping 22-yard run in the first quarter. Marques Colston added an 18-yard TD catch and Reggie Bush had a 1-yard TD run late in the first half, giving
the Saints a lead they would not relinquish.
Colston finished with 85 yards on six catches. Tight end Jeremy Shockey caught five passes for 72 yards.
Michael Turner rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown for Atlanta, which dropped three games behind New Orleans in the NFC South. Kroy Biermann scored on a fumble return after Thomas DeCoud's sack jarred the ball from Brees. Roddy White had a 68-yard TD catch, and
the Falcons pulled to 28-24 on Elam's 25-yard field goal with 11:33 to go.
That field goal, however, came only after Payton sprinted down the sideline and launched his red flag about 20 yards, just in time to challenge a tying touchdown catch by White. Replays showed White allowed the ball to touch the turf as he bobbled the diving catch.
"It's a disappointing loss but it's a long season," Ryan said.
"There's a lot that can happen between now and Week 17."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)