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09/22/2013 6:39 PM EDT
Brees leads Saints past Cardinals, 31-7
NEW ORLEANS 31, ARIZONA 7

By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Drew Brees pulled himself up in the end zone
after his diving touchdown scramble and held both arms high,
basking in the cheers pouring forth from the rollicking
Superdome crowd.

It has only been a year since the Saints were 0-3, shrouded in
scandal and going nowhere. It might as well have been a lifetime
ago.

Brees passed for three touchdowns to go with his scoring run and
the Saints beat the Arizona Cardinals 31-7 on Sunday to improve
to 3-0 for the first time since 2009, when they won the Super
Bowl.

"Hopefully we can just continue to get a little bit better, and
gain confidence and momentum and keep the train rolling," said
Brees, who connected twice with tight end Jimmy Graham for
scores and once with Robert Meachem. "I'm very happy to be 3-0,
2-0 in the (NFC South) division, 3-0 in the NFC. All those
things are significant."

Defensively, New Orleans couldn't ask for much more. The Saints
allowed a single-season record 7,042 yards a year ago. This
season under new coordinator Rob Ryan, New Orleans has allowed
four TDs in the first three games. The unit produced four sacks
and two interceptions of Arizona's Carson Palmer.

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan sacked Palmer twice. Outside
linebacker Junior Galette added another, as did rookie defensive
end Glenn Foster.

"It was all just pressure everywhere," said Jordan, who
exchanged high-fives with fellow defensive lineman Akiem Hicks
in the locker room afterward. "When you're part of a D-line like
that, I mean, it's a party."

First-round draft choice safety Kenny Vaccaro made his first
career interception, and Keenan Lewis, acquired in free agency
last offseason, had his first interception with the Saints.

Coach Sean Payton, who looks to be building another contender
after returning from last season's bounty ban, summed it up as a
"really good afternoon."

"We finished this game the way we like to," Payton said. "I'm
proud of our guys."

Arizona (1-2) had a 7-0 lead after driving 80 yards on the
game's opening possession, with Alfonso Smith scoring on a
3-yard run. After that, the Cardinals didn't score.

"They can rush the passer. There's two really good pass rushers
that people don't know a lot about," said Palmer, who was 18 of
35 for 187 yards. "Cameron Jordan is really good. He showed that
today. Junior Galette is really good. They are physical guys.
They stop the run. They rush the passer and are a really good
combination."

Brees was 29 of 46 for 342 yards. He was intercepted once by New
Orleans native and former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu. That ended a
scoring threat, but only delayed the inevitable on a day when
Arizona's short-handed defense was little match for the prolific
Saints passing attack.

Arizona, whose defense was missing four starters by early in the
second half, had no answer for the 6-foot-7 Graham, who caught
nine passes for 134 yards, one week after catching 10 passes for
179 yards in Tampa Bay.

"We had critical injuries, and some young guys had to chip in
and play," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "They didn't
handle it as well as I hoped."

The Saints responded quickly to the Cardinals' opening score
with Brees' pinpoint 27-yard pass to Meachem.

New Orleans took the lead in the second quarter on Brees'
16-yard, back-shoulder throw to Graham, who went up high and
twisted to make a grab that safety Yeremiah Bell was powerless
to stop.

"It's just run, jump and get it," said Graham, a former college
basketball power forward. "That's just what we do."

Brees' TD scramble made it a three-score game early in the
fourth.

Vaccaro's interception thwarted the next drive and started the
series that culminated with Graham's second TD on a quick 7-yard
pass over the middle.

"Today was a huge step for us," said Saints middle linebacker
Curtis Lofton, who joined New Orleans as a free agent in 2012,
only to be part of the first Saints team to miss the playoffs in
three seasons. "Last year, I don't know what that was, but this
year is what I definitely expected. I love being here."

NOTES: Cardinals starting NT Dan Williams was excused for the
death of his father in a car accident. OLB Lorenzo Alexander
(right foot) and S Rashad Johnson went out in the first half,
and OLB Sam Acho (left ankle) went down in the third quarter.
... Saints WR Lance Moore left the game in the second half and
the Saints did not provide an update on his condition.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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