NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees made Atlanta pay for losing track of his inexperienced receivers, and New Orleans’ defense halted several promising Falcons drives with forced fumbles they could not afford.
Tommylee Lewis and Austin Carr each caught his second career touchdown pass, rookie tight end Dan Arnold and rookie receiver Keith Kirkwood each grabbed their first, and the Saints won their 10th straight game with a 31-17 victory Thursday night that eliminated Atlanta from contention in the NFC South.
All four players entered the NFL as undrafted free agents within the past three years.
“I love that stat,” Brees said. “That’s one of my favorite ones.”
They also had combined for zero touchdowns this season before Carr caught the first of his career last Sunday.
“It says a lot about taking advantage of the opportunity,” Brees said. “It’s fun to watch them grow and gain confidence. We’re building chemistry, which typically takes time, right? But they’ve been thrust into this role.”
Meanwhile, the Falcons (4-7) lost three fumbles inside the Saints 20 — tough for any team to overcome against streaking New Orleans (10-1) this season.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was stripped by safety Marcus Williams on a third-and-2 from the Saints 3 and Williams recovered to end Atlanta’s opening drive. Julio Jones was stripped by linebacker Alex Anzalone after a catch on the New Orleans 17, and safety Vonn Bell recovered in the final minute of the second quarter to preserve a 17-3 lead going into halftime.
New Orleans’ defense, which had a season-high six sacks, continued to come up with big plays in the second half. Anzalone broke up a fourth-down pass in the third quarter and linebacker A.J. Klein intercepted a pass tipped by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison in the fourth.
“I do love the way that we played today,” said defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had two sacks. “I do love the four turnovers. I do love the sacks. I do love the pressures. I do love the quarterback hits. For all terms and purposes, we had our Thanksgiving.”
Klein’s interception gave the Saints possession on the Atlanta 22, setting up Kirkwood’s diving 4-yard TD catch.
With about four minutes left, cornerback Marshon Lattimore stripped Calvin Ridley on the Saints 1 after a 29-yard completion that looked as though it would end in a touchdown. Defensive back Eli Apple recovered that one.
“When you have one turnover (in the red zone), it feels like a lot,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We had three down there and that was the real story of the game.”
Ryan was under pressure all night from a Saints defense that was bolstered by the return of first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games. Marcus Williams, P.J. Williams, Sheldon Rankins and Demario Davis each had a sack.
Ryan finished 35 of 47 for 377 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But little came easy. His first TD pass, to Ridley, came on fourth down from the 2 late in the third quarter.
Atlanta rushed for just 26 yards. New Orleans finished with 150, led by Alvin Kamara’s 89 and Mark Ingram’s 52.
Statistically, Brees did not have one of his more impressive games, completing 15 of 22 passes for 171 yards with his second interception of the season. The pick was snagged by Damontae Kazee, his NFL-leading sixth this year.
Cowboys 31, Redskins 23
In Arlington, Texas, Dak Prescott threw for a season-high 289 yards with two long scoring passes to Amari Cooper, and Dallas celebrated Thanksgiving by working its way into a tie for first place in the NFC East with a win over Washington.
Prescott and Cooper connected for TDs on back-to-back drives in the third quarter — scores of 40 and 90 yards — to blow the game open for the Cowboys (6-5). Cooper had eight catches for 180 yards and the two touchdowns. Prescott finished 22 of 31 and rushed six times for 18 yards, and Ezekiel Elliott added 143 total yards.
Colt McCoy was intercepted three times and sacked three times for the Redskins (6-5). He completed 24 of 38 passes for 268 yards in his first week as starter since Alex Smith sustained a broken leg.
Bears 23, Lions 16
In Detroit, Eddie Jackson returned an interception 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with six minutes remaining, and Chicago held on for a victory over the hosts.
Bears quarterback Chase Daniel, who had not started a game since Dec. 28, 2014, when he played for Kansas City, completed 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards and two scoring passes. Daniel filled in for Mitchell Trubisky, who missed the game with a shoulder injury but is reportedly expected back in Week 13.
Tarik Cohen caught seven passes for 45 yards and a touchdown for the Bears (8-3), who won their fifth straight. Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 38 passes for 236 yards for Detroit (4-7), but threw two critical fourth-quarter interceptions.