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Saints 31, Cardinals 7

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees surpassed 300 passing yards for the eighth consecutive game, threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, powering the suddenly defense-minded New Orleans Saints to a 31-7 rout of the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

In keeping their record perfect at 3-0, the Saints spotted Arizona (1-2) a 7-0 lead and then scored 31 consecutive points. Brees threw touchdown passes of 16 and 7 yards to tight end Jimmy Graham, 27 yards to Robert Meachem and ran 7 yards for another score on a scramble up the middle.

The Saints did almost all of their damage through the air. Brees completed 29-of-46 passes for 342 yards, and the Saints had minus-6 yards on four first-half carries. But Brees and a revitalized Saints defense were more than enough.

The Saints' defense was the NFL's laughingstock last year - allowing a league record 7,042 yards in 16 games - but it has been transformed under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

After allowing the Cardinals an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive to open the game - capped by Alfonso Smith's 3-yard run around right end - New Orleans forced Arizona to punt seven consecutive times over the next three quarters, then stopped a possible scoring drive with an interception of Carson Palmer by rookie saferty Kenny Vaccaro.

The Saints used mostly a four-man pass rush against Palmer, but they sacked him four times and constantly made him move in the pocket. Palmer finished 18-of-35 for 187 yards, with two interceptions.

Despite heavy pressure from the Cardinals' front four, particular defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, Brees finally got the Saints' offense back on track after some early sputtering.

Brees tied the game at 7-7 on New Orleans' first offensive series, completing 5-of-6 passes for 88 yards and finding newly acquired Meachem for a 27-yard touchdown. It was Meachem's first touchdown catch since being reacquired on waivers from San Diego, where he had spent one unproductive season.

Brees put the Saints up 14-7 with a back-shoulder, 16-yard throw to tight end Jimmy Graham on safety Yeremiah Bell with 2:53 left in the half.

After throwing an end zone interception on the first series of the second half, Brees came right back, completing passes of 19 yards to Marques Colston and 29 yards to Graham to set up Garrett Hartley's 31-yard field goal and putting the Saints up 17-7.

After another Arizona punt, Brees engineered an eight-play 67-yard drive for another TD, this time getting it himself on a 7-yard scramble up the middle after Arizona had taken away all five of his receivers. That put the Saints up 24-7 with 14:42 left.

NOTES: Cardinals defensive end Dan Williams missed the game because his father died in a car crash. ... Sean Payton made a curious decision with his timeouts late in the first half, but his unusual strategy did not backfire. The Saints were leading 14-7 and had three timeouts - and the Cardinals only one - when they got the ball back at their 4 with 1:43 left. Even though the Saints were going to get the ball back with the second-half kickoff, Payton called one timeout after a first-down completion, but Brees threw two consecutive incompletions to give Arizona the ball back at its 40 with 1:19 left. Then Payton called two more timeouts on the defensive series, but Arizona could not capitalize. ... Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson left the game in the first half with a finger injury, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was carted off with a right foot injury and linebacker Sam Acho injured an ankle. ... Ex-LSU star Tryann Mathieu made an impressive return to his home state, snagging his first NFL interception against Brees in the third quarter, who tried to hit Lance Moore in the end zone.
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