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RECAP
10/08/2012 1:55 AM EDT
Brees sets mark, Saints beat Chargers 31-24
NEW ORLEANS 31, SAN DIEGO 24

By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Drew Brees got suspended coach Sean Payton in
the building, broke a prestigious NFL passing record and led New
Orleans to a desperately needed first win of the season.



For one memorable night, at least, the entire beleaguered Saints
organization and its frustrated fans could celebrate a special
moment in football history and recapture that winning feeling
that had become commonplace before an offseason overshadowed by
the NFL's bounty investigation.



Brees broke Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas'
half-century-old record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th
straight game, and the Saints defeated the San Diego Chargers
31-24 on Sunday night.



"I guess you really couldn't have written a better script for
tonight," Brees said. "To break the record, to get the win, and
the fashion in which we won - really a complete team effort all
the way around.



"The amazing thing about a record like this is it spans over the
course of four seasons and hopefully we can keep it going to for
a while," Brees said. "There are so many people that are a part
of this."



Brees' 40-yard pass to Devery Henderson eclipsed the mark of 47
consecutive games with a touchdown pass Unitas set from 1956-60.



Brees said he was honored and humbled to break a record by a
player he saw as a pioneer who stood for "everything that's
great in this league."



Brees finished with four touchdown passes, including three to
Marques Colston, giving the seventh-year receiver a
franchise-record 52 TD catches with the Saints (1-4).



At Brees' request, the NFL allowed Payton, assistant head coach
Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis - all serving various
suspensions in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation -
to attend the game. They and Unitas' son, Joe, saw Brees pass
for 370 yards, enough to put Brees over 30,000 yards passing as
a Saint in his 100th game with the club.



Afterward, Brees took an elevator near the Saints' locker room
up to the Superdome's suite level to share a few moments with
Payton, Loomis and Vitt.



"It gave us a good mojo for sure," Brees said of Payton's
presence. "I love my coach, so glad he could be here. Mickey and
Joe Vitt as well. It is special for our team, special they could
be a part of this record."



NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the one who suspended Saints
personnel in the bounty matter but also granted Brees' request
for Payton, Vitt and Loomis to attend the game, chimed in on his
Twitter page shortly after the record fell, writing, "Congrats
to (at)drewbrees & his teammates on breaking Unitas' record.
Amazing accomplishment by great QB & leader. We're proud of you,
Drew."



Philip Rivers passed for 354 yards and two touchdowns to former
Saint Robert Meachem, but had two costly turnovers in the final
quarter.



"I can't tell you how tough it is to lose a game like this,"
Rivers said. "We were right there. We were up by 10 points and
just didn't get it done. We have a great team, a championship
caliber team. But we have to win close games like this."



The first late turnover was Roman Harper's interception and
41-yard return on a pass tipped by fellow safety Malcolm
Jenkins. That set up the Saints' final score on Garrett
Hartley's field goal. San Diego (3-2) still had a chance to tie
in the final minute until defensive end Martez Wilson stripped
Rivers and recovered the fumble to seal the victory.



The Saints' defense, which entered the game ranked least in the
league, had a hand in the victory not only with the turnovers
but five sacks.



"You really have to credit our defense getting pressure on the
quarterback," Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. "That's what
made a difference in the game."



After his record-setting completion, Brees trotted to the end
zone to hug Henderson. The rest of New Orleans' offense pursued
and swarmed around Brees in celebration while the jubilant
Superdome crowd roared and then howled an elongated,
"Dreeeeeeew!"



Brees took the game ball to the sideline where he continued to
accept congratulations. The scoring pass capped an 80-yard drive
in which Brees completed all three of his third-down passes,
including the touchdown.



Colston finished with nine catches for 131 yards, while
Henderson had eight catches for 123 yards.



Colston's second TD late in the third quarter eclipsed a
franchise mark set by Joe Horn in 2006 and pulled the Saints
back within a field goal shortly after the Chargers appeared to
have gone ahead 31-14 on Demorrio Williams' interception return
for a touchdown. Williams' TD was nullified, however, by Melvin
Ingram's late hit on Brees' chin, which drew a
roughing-the-passer flag and extended what wound up to be an
87-yard scoring drive.



"Obviously it was a critical play," Chargers coach Norv Turner
said. "You can't make those kinds of errors, and we will learn
from them."



Vitt is expected to take over the coaching staff when his
six-game suspension ends. Loomis was docked eight games. As the
Saints headed into their bye week, the desperately needed win
offered hope, however faint, of making a run for a
fourth-straight playoff appearance when Vitt and Loomis are
back.



Colston made his first touchdown catch on a pass Brees lofted
perfectly to the back of the end zone. That gave New Orleans a
14-10 lead that lasted until Meachem's 44-yard touchdown catch
in the final minute of the half.



San Diego went ahead 24-14 on Ryan Mathews' 13-yard run around
left end, capping a three-play drive that started when Henderson
tipped a pass that Brees threw behind him, allowing Quentin
Jammer to intercept it and give San Diego the ball on the New
Orleans 25.



Notes: Brees set his latest passing record against the team that
drafted him in 2001 and for which he played his first five
seasons in the NFL before coming to New Orleans in 2006. ... The
last game Brees played without throwing for a TD was Oct. 4,
2009, in a victory over the New York Jets. ... Chargers PK Nick
Novak, who was filling in for the injured Nate Kaeding, made a
20-yard field goal but missed a 55-yard attempt in the second
quarter. ... Saints CB Jabari Greer left the game with what team
officials said was a hip injury. He was hurt late in the second
quarter and did not return. ... Saints TE Jimmy Graham hurt his
right ankle in the first half. He returned but was not a factor.



---



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