Saints rout Raiders, reach .500 after 0-4 start

The SportsXchange

OAKLAND -- The New Orleans' Saints long climb back to .500 ended Sunday with a 38-17 rout of the Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum.

After starting 0-4, the Saints are now 5-5, and they have no intention of going backward.

"It's been a long grind, especially starting off 0-4," Saints strong safety Roman Harper said. "We never pointed fingers, we stuck together as a locker room, as a team. We knew we could achieve great things if we could stick together and continue this grind of this long season.

"We're right back where we need to be. We're back at .500, and we've got to continue to grind and we'll be in the playoff race."

The Raiders, meanwhile, continued streaking in the wrong direction, losing their third straight game and falling to 3-7. Rookie coach Dennis Allen, who won a Super Bowl during his five-year stint as a Saints assistant coach, lost to his former team.

"Disappointing," Allen said. "We felt like we had a good week of practice. We thought we were ready to play, and we got beat today. The only way I know how to fix things is we just have to go back to work, keep grinding. Those guys in the locker room, there's nobody that hurts worse than they do. We're going to keep fighting and keep battling and keep grinding."

Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 20 of 27 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. He threw no interceptions and compiled a 134.6 passer rating. He beat the Raiders for the seventh straight time -- the first five in that streak as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 53rd straight game, an ongoing NFL record, but he had plenty of help on both sides of the ball.

Brees connected on scoring strikes of 38 and 15 yards to wide receiver Lance Moore, and he hit tight end Jimmy Graham with a 1-yard touchdown pass.

Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins scored on a 55-yard interception return, picking off a Carson Palmer pass in the first quarter. New Orleans running back Mark Ingram scored on a 27-yard run in the third quarter.

"This was a big win for our football team, to get back to 5-5 after starting 0-4," Saints coach Joe Vitt said. "I said it last week and I'll say it again. It's a tribute to those players in the locker room that at 0-4 they stuck together, worked hard every day, never pointed fingers and just continued to try to get better every single day. And it's paying dividends now.

"This was a hard-fought game. I don't think the score's going to indicate, really, how hard the Raiders played. They did some good things in spurts."

Raiders fullback Marcel Reece, starting at running back for the injured Darren McFadden, rushed for a career-high 103 yards on 19 carries and caught four passes for 90 yards.

"Oh man, Reece was a soldier," Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes said. "He went out there and did exactly what he's been doing, basically, all season long. What made it a little more (impressive) is we had our workhorse, Darren, down. (Reece) is picking up a lot of slack, and he's been doing a hell of a job. He's been doing a good job of making reads and running, and he's also been doing a good job in the passing game. He's a nice triple threat for us, so hat's off to him."

Palmer had a rough day, completing 22 of 40 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, racking up much of his passing yardage after the game was out of hand. He was intercepted twice and had a passer rating of 76.2. Palmer was sacked three times.

The Saints grabbed a quick 14-0 lead, and they held a 21-7 advantage at halftime.

On their first possession of the game, the Saints drove 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, Brees hitting a wide-open Graham in the right corner of the end zone with a 1-yard pass. Brees went 5-for-6 for 41 yards on the drive.

"Great all-around team victory," Brees said. "Very balanced on offense. Defensively, coming up with a big turnover resulting in points, another one that took points away from them."

The Saints made it 14-0 lead with 4:06 left in the first on Jenkins' long interception return of a Palmer pass intended for tight end Brandon Myers.

"I was able to jump the route, and the ball came right to me," Jenkins said. "The best part about it was just the reaction of my teammates and how fast they started getting blocks and kind of escorted me down the sideline and into the end zone."

On Oakland's next possession, Palmer marched the Raiders to a first-and-goal at the New Orleans 1. Reece lost a yard on first down, and then rookie wide receiver Rod Streater was penalized 10 yards for pass interference. On third-and-goal from the 7, Palmer zipped a pass that deflected off Myers and directly to Harper in the end zone for a touchback.

The Raiders finally scored with 4:10 left in half on Palmer's 1-yard pass to Myers, capping a four-play, 81-yard drive that included a 56-yard pass to Reece.

That score cut the Saints' lead to 14-7, but New Orleans struck again with 48 seconds left in half on Brees' 38-yard touchdown toss to Moore. Moore beat cornerback Michael Huff on a post route, and Brees threw a strike while taking a hit from Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston.

"We needed it," Moore said. "We drive the ball and (are) not really having a problem scoring and the defense scores, and it feels like we have all of the momentum. Then they go and score, and it was a situation where you needed to score. The timing of it was great to go into the locker room with the momentum and move forward from there."

The Saints quickly ended all doubt early in the third quarter. Travaris Cadet returned the half-opening kickoff 75 yards to the Raiders' 27, and on first down, Ingram swept around left end for a score that put the Saints ahead 28-7.

Sebastian Janikowski's 40-yard field cut Oakland's deficit to 28-10 with 10:22 left in the third, but Brees' 15-yard touchdown pass to Moore increased the margin to 35-7 with 3:26 left in the period.

Garrett Hartley added a 47-yard field goal for New Orleans in the fourth quarter. Raiders rookie wide receiver Juron Criner made his first career touchdown catch, on a 3-yard toss from Palmer, late in the fourth.

"I'm not happy," Raiders owner Mark Davis said, "but nobody in this room is."

NOTES: Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch's streak of 57 starts ended. He was inactive due to a neck injury he suffered at Baltimore. Mike Mitchell started in his place. ... Barnes returned to the Raiders' starting lineup after missing the previous seven games with a groin injury that required surgery. Willie Smith, who started for Barnes, was inactive. Tony Bergstrom suited up as the backup. ... Raiders running backs McFadden and Mike Goodson missed their second straight games with high ankle sprains. Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) also was inactive. ... Saints running back Darren Sproles, who practiced this week, was inactive because of a broken hand, missing his third straight game. ... New Orleans' Charles Brown started at right tackle for the injured Zach Strief (groin), who was inactive. Brown suffered a knee injury in second quarter. ... Saints cornerback Elbert Mack took a knee to the helmet from a teammate, defensive end Will Smith, late in the fourth quarter and came out of the game. He was undergoing tests, Vitt said.
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