New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith (91) celebrates after sacking Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Saints have tied their best start to a season.
Drew Brees had 308 yards passing, Pierre Thomas scored two touchdowns and Jabari Greer returned an interception for a score to help the Saints improve to 7-0 with a 35-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. Only the 1991 Saints began a season with as many wins.
Greer's touchdown was the Saints' fifth score on an interception this season, tying a single-season franchise mark set in 1998. Tracy Porter also had an interception on the Saints 1-yard line on a pass tipped by Jonathan Vilma in the fourth quarter, preserving a 28-24 lead.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted three times, the third straight game he'd been intercepted at least twice.
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.
Sharper's interception also was the Saints' 16th overall this season, surpassing New Orleans' total of 15 from last season. The Saints have at least one interception in every game this season.
Brees hit Marques Colston for an 18-yard score. Thomas scored on a 22-yard run in the first quarter and a 1-yard catch out of the backfield with 3:03 to go, flipping backward over a tackler and into the end zone. That touchdown made it 35-24 and ignited the entire Superdome into chants of "Who dat say they gonna' beat them Saints?"
Reggie Bush added a 1-yard touchdown late in the first half, giving the Saints a lead they would not relinquish.
Roddy White beat Greer on a 68-yard scoring pass from Ryan early in the third quarter, and the Falcons pulled to 28-24 on Elam's 25-yard field goal with 11:33 to go in the game.
That field goal, however, came only after Saints coach Sean Payton sprinted down the sideline and launched his red flag about 20 yards just in time to challenge what had been ruled a game-tying touchdown catch by White in the back of the end zone. Replays showed White allowed the ball to touch the turf as he bobbled the catch.
The loss, Atlanta's second straight, dropped the Falcons (4-3) three games behind the Saints in the NFC South. It marked the first time the Falcons had lost two straight under second-year coach Mike Smith. It also squandered Michael Turner's best game of the season. He had 151 yards rushing, including a 13-yard touchdown.
The Falcons' defense also produced a score. Thomas DeCoud's jarring sack on a delayed blitz up the middle dislodged the ball from Brees and Kroy Biermann returned it from the 4-yard line, giving Atlanta a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Brees came back strong from the turnover, leading the Saints 80 yards on 12 plays to tie it at 14 on his TD pass to Colston, who outjumped cornerback Tye Hill on the grab. Colston finished with 85 yards on six catches and tight end Jeremy Shockey caught five passes for 72 yards.
Atlanta had two first-half drives stall on Elam's missed field goal attempts from 34 and 51 yards.
One Saints drive stalled deep in Atlanta territory when cornerback Brent Grimes made a spectacular leaping interception on the Atlanta 18.
Brees once again bounced back, going 4 for 4 for 76 yards on the Saints' final offensive series of the first half, setting up Bush's touchdown on a run around the left end.
A little more than three years ago, the Falcons were the visitors when the Saints returned to the newly reopened Louisiana Superdome for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. That Monday night had a storybook start for the Saints, who scored on a blocked punt on Atlanta's opening drive.
With those vivid memories still fresh, the Superdome crowd was cheering wildly as the Saints defense took the field after the opening kickoff.
This time, however, Ryan calmly led the Falcons 77 yards for a score, with Turner gaining 38 of those yards, including his lone TD.
New Orleans answered when Thomas broke former LSU star Chevis Jackson's tackle near the line of scrimmage, then cut left away from John Abraham to tie it at 7.