All Saints day....
ALL SAINTS' DAY
Brooks, New Orleans deliver most dominating performance of the season
Monday October 20, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
ATLANTA -- Aaron Brooks made the weekly postgame stroll from playing field to locker room Sunday, and as usual, a throng of fans awaited him.
This time, though, the Black and Gold nation huddled around the tunnel to the locker room to hail the Saints' quarterback, not to bury him. One of the overjoyed mob even begged Brooks for the wristband on his right arm, to which Brooks obliged. His over-the-shoulder toss, like each of his passes this day, found its target, a fitting end to a career day.
In his four-year NFL career, Brooks has passed for more yards and more touchdowns. But he's rarely played better than he did in the Saints' 45-17 rout of the Falcons.
Brooks completed 23 of 30 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns, single-handedly igniting the Saints' big-play offense from its season-long simmer.
Brooks' yardage total is the second-highest of his career, surpassed only by a 441-yard game against Denver in 2000. His 148.2 passer efficiency rating is a career-best mark.
"I was just playing my game," Brooks said. "It felt no different than last week or the week before. Those guys (his receivers) made it special. My job is to just get them the ball. And the offensive line was really the key for me. They gave us the time to play pitch-and-catch."
It wasn't so much what Brooks did, but how he did it. He made the correct reads and audibles. He ran when he had the chance, and stayed in the pocket and fired when he had the time. And from start to finish, he was decisive.
"From the start of the game, he was on point," running back Deuce McAllister said. "It's really been that way the whole year. We've dropped a lot of passes that have been there all along."
The onslaught started from the opening minutes.
In an effort to kick-start an offense that had failed to score on any of its six previous opening drives, the Saints opened the game in a no-huddle attack. On the third play from scrimmage, Brooks hit DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¨ Stallworth on a simple slant pattern to the left side. The pass traveled 9 yards. Stallworth sprinted the final 60 on his own, running through the Falcons' secondary for the longest score of the Saints' season.
The score erased the Falcons' early 7-0 lead, which Atlanta seized on the game's second play when Warrick Dunn raced 69 yards down the left sideline on a draw.
Stallworth's touchdown was a portent of things to come.
On the next series, Brooks lofted a 32-yard pass to Joe Horn, who tight-roped the right sideline of the end zone to make the score 14-7.
After the Falcons tied the score at 14, the Saints scored three touchdowns in the final 6:02 of the first half to put the hosts away.
McAllister scored on runs of 4 and 10 yards, sandwiched around a 12-yard pass from Brooks to Boo Williams. The Saints had a commanding 35-14 lead at the break.
Brooks hit 15 of 18 passes for 281 yards in the first half. Five of those completions covered 22 yards or more.
"He's a good quarterback. But when watching the film, we saw that when guys would get to him, it would rattle him," Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "But today, he was nifty like Mike Vick."
A case could be made that even Brooks' incompletions weren't his fault. On the first, tight end Ernie Conwell wanted an interference call on Falcons safety Keion Carpenter, but no penalty was called. On the second, Horn dropped the ball on a crossing pattern. On the third, Brooks wisely dumped the ball out of bounds to avert a sack after his protection broke down.
"A.B. played a great game today," center Jerry Fontenot said. "He was very smart, and he played with great poise."
Brooks' heroics highlighted one of the most prolific offensive games in Saints history.
The scoring total was third-highest for New Orleans and the most against the Falcons in the 68-game, 37-year history of the series. It was the largest road victory by the Saints since a 38-0 win at Atlanta on Nov. 1, 1987.
The Saints set season highs in seven offensive categories, including total yards (507), first downs (27) and third-down conversions (10 of 16). In the first half they gained an average of 10.6 yards per play and had nine "big plays," by definition, passes of 20 yards or more and runs of 10 yards or more. Their 375 total yards in the first half were more than they had gained in an entire game this season.
McAllister scored two touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards, his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
Horn rebounded from a three-catch, 30-yard performance against Chicago with eight receptions for a season-high 133 yards.
"You'd have to say we were hitting on all cylinders," wide receiver Jerome Pathon said. "We showed what we are capable of doing. We showed the offense that we can be."
It was a vastly different story on the other sideline. Atlanta, already playing without its best offensive player in Vick, lost its best defensive player (linebacker Keith Brooking) on the game's first series.
The Falcons, with second-year quarterback Kurt Kittner starting for the first time, gained only 44 total yards in the second half en route to their sixth consecutive setback. In their last five losses, they have been outscored by an average of 34-11.
"There is not a lot to say," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "It's tough to take. It's tough to play like that. I feel badly for our football team."
The Saints' two-game winning streak, coupled with losses by Carolina (5-1) and Tampa Bay (3-3) on Sunday, has vaulted them back into contention in the NFC South division race.
"It's a great win for us, but at the same time we are still under .500," Brooks said. "That's not where this team wants to be. Once we get to .500, we can crack a smile a little bit."
Brooks was asked if his career day might finally win over the hometown fans, many of whom have been openly critical of his play this season.
"I don't know, man," Brooks said. "It seems like something I'm going to have to fight my whole career. I'm fine with that. I don't fight the battle with the media. I've had my share of trying to justify things.
"Nah, my only opponent is the team that I'm playing the upcoming week. They (the fans and media) continue to do what they want, but Aaron Brooks is going to be Brooks."
And with that, Brooks departed to board the bus. After the best game of his career, he left without even a trace of a smile.
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