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Saints keep playoff hopes alive with win over distracted Falcons

The New Orleans Saints shook off the hangover from a devastating loss. The Falcons are still trying to get over a much bigger setback.

ATLANTA -- The New Orleans Saints shook off the hangover from a devastating loss. The Falcons are still trying to get over a much bigger setback.

After waking to news that disgraced quarterback Michael Vick would have to serve nearly two years in prison for dogfighting, his one-time teammates in Atlanta trudged through another dismal performance in a lost season.

With Reggie Bush watching from the sideline and reportedly done for the year, Drew Brees passed for 328 yards and three touchdowns and New Orleans gave its playoff hopes a boost with a 34-14 rout of the Falcons on Monday night.

The Saints (6-7) had no trouble getting over the disappointment of their last-minute loss to Tampa Bay a week earlier, taking advantage of a team that had to be distracted by the events in Richmond, Va., earlier in the day.

Vick was sentenced to 23 months behind bars, completing his stunning fall from NFL star to federal prison inmate.

"The team misses him and we really need him this season," said receiver Roddy White, one of two Falcons who showed their solidarity with Vick for all to see.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall ran on the field during pregame introductions holding up a Vick poster and had "MV7" painted beneath his eyes. After White hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass that briefly tied the game at 7, he pulled up his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the handwritten message "Free Mike Vick."

Hall and White are both likely to be fined by the NFL, and they can only hope Vick didn't have cable TV in his jail cell. This was another ugly performance by the team No. 7 put in such a bind with his off-the-field troubles.

At the management and coaching level, the Falcons (3-10) say they're moving on without Vick. The players know it's not that easy.

"I don't want to say this franchise doesn't want to acknowledge the situation, but that's kind of the way you feel," Hall said. "All his pictures are gone, no more jerseys, no more nothing. We just wanted to let him know we're still thinking about him. We care about him as a human being, not just as a football player and as a running quarterback."

Bush watched from the sideline, his season apparently ended by a partially torn knee ligament. But the Saints didn't miss a beat with third-stringer Aaron Stecker, who rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries.

"When you lose a guy like Reggie Bush, everybody has to step up," said receiver David Patten, another of those who did just that.

Patten had nine catches for 122 yards, including an acrobatic 25-yard touchdown grab for New Orleans' first score. Marques Colston also had nine catches for 92 yards and two TDs.

Brees shredded the Falcons' defense with four scoring drives that covered at least 75 yards, including a 99-yarder. He should've had a fourth TD pass, but Eric Johnson dropped a throw in the back of the end zone with no one around.

"Throughout this season, we have shown signs of greatness," Brees said. "We had to start some drives deep in our own territory, but we stuck with it. We had to earn every one."

The Saints vowed not to play timid after botching a trick play late in their game against the Bucs, who recovered and drove for the winning touchdown with 17 seconds remaining to take firm control of the NFC South.

Coach Sean Payton lived up to his word on his team's very first possession, going for it on fourth-and-1 at the New Orleans 33. Brees was stuffed for no gain, but that was about the only thing that didn't go right for the Saints. The defense held and forced the Falcons to punt.

By winning, New Orleans stayed in the midst of the wild-card race and prevented Tampa Bay from clinching the division title.

"We are an aggressive team offensively," Brees said. "That is our mind-set. That is what we are. That is why we're successful."

The Falcons long ago gave up on the playoffs. Trying their third different quarterback of the post-Vick era, Atlanta handed journeyman Chris Redman his first start in more than five years.

While Redman's journey was inspiring -- he was out of the league the last three seasons and selling insurance a year ago -- his appearance did little to spark one of the NFL's most anemic offenses.

Redman threw for two touchdowns and a career-best 298 yards, the second-highest total this season for a team that also has used Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich. But the Saints built a 17-7 lead by halftime and blew it open with two more touchdowns early in the third quarter.

New Orleans took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards in 11 plays, capped by Brees' 2-yard touchdown toss to Colston.

Two snaps later, Redman threw a pass that went right through the hands of receiver Michael Jenkins. Roman Harper picked off the wobbly ball at the Atlanta 31 and didn't stop running until he was in the end zone.

In a final indignity for Redman, Jason Craft delivered a block on the quarterback right at the goal line that sent him sprawling.

"Not a good day," Falcons coach Bobby Petrino said curtly.

Notes: The Saints rushed for 145 yards overall, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Pierre Thomas chipped in with 31 yards on six carries. ... Jenkins tied his career high with nine receptions, accounting for 83 yards. ... Falcons rookie Laurent Robinson had a 41-yard catch, the longest of his young career.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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