Saints beat Cardinals 31-24; still chasing wild card

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 17, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — No botched trick plays this time as the New Orleans Saints protected a one-score lead to keep themselves alive in the NFC wild-card chase.

Drew Brees connected on 87 percent of his throws for 315 yards and two touchdowns, capping his day with a clutch, 22-yard third-down completion to Billy Miller. That allowed the Saints to safely run out the clock in a 31-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

When New Orleans (7-7) last played in the Louisiana Superdome two games ago, a fumble on a botched reverse set up Tampa Bay’s winning touchdown inside the final half-minute.

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With a loss severely hurting playoff hopes for either team, the game was a high-anxiety affair.

Played indoors, it was still no less sloppy than some of the weather-affected contests far to the north. Fumbles by each team set up opponents’ scores. Roman Harper’s interception of Kurt Warner’s tipped pass set up another Saints touchdown.

Warner, who turned over the ball and was sacked twice, alternated between his worst and best. He completed six of seven throws on an 80-yard scoring drive in the third quarter that pulled Arizona (6-8) to 28-21. The 3-yard touchdown toss was among his best, as he alertly dumped the ball straight ahead to tight end Ben Patrick just before getting crushed in a collapsing pocket.

But Brees made fewer mistakes, completing 26 of 30 throws while never turning over the ball. His prettiest pass was a 32-yard rainbow David Patten caught in stride along the sideline for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Brees also found Marques Colston over the middle for a 19-yard score in the first quarter that tied the game at 7.

Colston finished with eight receptions for 114 yards, using good body position and long reach to snag several tough catches in tight coverage. He now has 1,092 yards receiving, meaning the seventh-round draft choice out of Hofstra has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first two NFL seasons.

New Orleans running game also was steady for the second week in a row in the absence of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. The Saints rushed for 114 yards as a team, with third-stringer Aaron Stecker rushing for 95 yards and two TDs.

Warner finished 19-of-30 for 233 yards and three TDs. Warner took advantage of Anquan Boldin’s return from a dislocated toe, hitting the receiver six times for 83 yards.

Warner’s first touchdown went to tight end Troy Bienemann on fourth-and-goal from the 1. He also hit Larry Fitzgerald for an 18-yard score.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t let his team go down without a fight. He called a fake punt on fourth-and-7 from the Arizona 25, and Sean Morey ran 13 yards to extend the drive. Arizona ended up with Neil Rackers’ 26-yard field goal to move to 31-24 with 9:11 left in the game.

Brees hit Patten across midfield for a long gain, but Patten, carrying the ball in one hand, fumbled at the Cardinals 43. When Arizona stalled near midfield with about six minutes remaining, the Cardinals’ punt was downed at the New Orleans 4.

But Brees hit Miller and Colston for consecutive first downs, then Stecker ran for two short gains, setting up Brees final backbreaking completion to Miller.