NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints successfully completed the league-mandated Thursday night game all teams must manage when they won their third game in 12 days against the Atlanta Falcons.
After dispatching the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Falcons, the latter with a 17-13 victory on Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, the Saints are facing a bigger challenge when they return next week.
Following some well-deserved rest, which includes some extended time away from their training facility, the Saints (9-2) will gear up to face the Seattle Seahawks in their next outing on Monday Night Football on Dec. 2 following their longest road trip of the season.
But before turning their full attention to that collision with the 10-1 Seahawks, who have a bye this weekend, the Saints will sit back and think about a job well done -- in a short period of time.
"It was a pretty quick turnaround, but fortunately, it's not a long flight (back)," Saints coach Sean Payton said Friday. "The following (Seahawks game) is always a challenge when you come back from a Monday night game on the West Coast."
The key to the hard-fought win against the Falcons, which assured the Saints of retaining at least a one-game lead over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South race going into that Week 13 showdown with the Seahawks, was allowing players to get proper rest.
"You can argue that the turnaround is too quick, but every team has to do it," Payton said. "We really tried to get them in the sweats and in walk-throughs to allow for their bodies to recover.
"I don't get as worried as we get closer to a game with physical activity, but I'm always worried after a game where (to make sure) there is enough distance and recovery. I thought they handled it well."
Playing the Falcons may have actually helped the Saints because they're so familiar with each other. But now that they are past that hurdle, the Saints will soon starting thinking about the Seahawks -- a game that could go a long way toward playoff seeding come late December.
"The challenge of playing on Thursdays is the tight turnaround," Payton said. "Once you play the game, you gain some additional time. So we'll try to use it as wisely as we can."
--Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw his 350th career touchdown pass in last week's win against the San Francisco 49ers, reached another milestone Thursday night.
With 278 passing yards in a 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Brees moved past Hall of Famer Warren Moon and into fifth place on the NFL's all-time list.
Needing just 38 yards to surpass Moon, Brees shot past him on his sixth completion of the game -- an 18-yard swing pass to Pierre Thomas -- and finished the game with 49,566 yards to Moon's 49,325 yards.
The next target for Brees is John Elway, who is fourth with 51,475 yards.
--RG Jahri Evans did not play against the Falcons on Thursday night because of an ankle injury and his return is not known.
--RB Darren Sproles was sidelined for Thursday's game by knee and ankle injuries and it's not known when he'll return.
--DE Glenn Foster suffered an injury to his lower left leg early in the third quarter against the Falcons and did not return.
--DE Tyrunn Walker, who has returned to practice after a knee injury, was sidelined for an eighth consecutive game against the Falcons.
REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- After throwing five interceptions in his last visit to the Georgia Dome, Drew Brees had a better go of it this time around with 23 completions in 33 attempts for 278 yards with a long of 44. He added two TDs and had no picks and was sacked just once in compiling a passer rating of 115.5. Brees distributed the ball to nine difference receivers, going five times each to Jimmy Graham (100 yards) and Pierre Thomas (57 yards). Graham caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter after Benjamin Watson pulled in a 1-yard scoring pass in the opening period. Marques Colston helped opened things up early with four catches for 40 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Saints again had some success running the football, marking the third week in a row that they have had a productive game. They finished with 103 yards and a 4.1-yard average on 25 attempts with Thomas gaining 73 yards on just 10 carries. He had a season-long rush of 18 yards. Mark Ingram added 32 yards on nine attempts with a long of 10 as the running game set the Falcons' defense up for Brees to air the ball out later in the first half and in the second half.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- At first glance, the numbers didn't look great for the Saints as Matt Ryan completed 30 of 39 passes for 292 yards. He had a long of 22 yards and compiled a passer rating of 97.4 against a patched-up Saints secondary. On the other hand, Ryan was under siege most of the night and was sacked five times for 28 yards with defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks getting 2.5 and 1.5, respectively. Harry Douglas caught nine passes for 79 yards and Darius Johnson added 67 yards on six receptions, but the Falcons' long gain was for 22 yards. The Saints held Tony Gonzalez to 43 yards on four catches and Roddy White to 24 yards on two receptions.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Falcons finished with 91 yards on 22 carries and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt even though they had just one double-digit rush -- and that was for 11 yards. Steven Jackson, who had a 50-yard run in the season opener against the Saints, had 63 yards on 16 attempts and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry with a long of 8 yards. He had their only touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run on their first drive of the game. Because they had some success throwing the ball, they didn't have to run it so much, which meant a combined four carries for Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Once again, the return game was a wash for the Saints as there were only three returns in the game. Travaris Cadet, filling in for an injured Darren Sproles, had one punt return for no yards and one kickoff for 20. The Falcons had just one punt return for 10 yards and had to down all four of Thomas Morstead's kickoffs in the end zone. Morstead averaged 49.5 gross yards and 42.0 net yards on four punts with a long of 56, and Garrett Hartley nailed his only field-goal attempt of the night from 41 yards out.
COACHING: A-plus -- Working on a short week after a very physical game with the San Francisco 49ers, the Saints' staff backed off their players and had limited practice time in the three days that they had to prepare for the Falcons. Whether it was allowing players to arrive later in the work day, or having walk-through practices designed to conserve their energy, the Saints responded well to how Sean Payton and his staff handled the situation even though they were a little sluggish at the game's outset.