After fighting their way back from an 0-4 start to a .500 record, the New Orleans Saints now face a tough task if they want to make it back to the playoffs.
Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes and Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception for another score to get the Saints back to even with a 38-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Lance Moore caught two touchdown passes and Mark Ingram ran for a score as the Saints (5-5) won for the fifth time in six games and are in position to make a late-season playoff run despite the season-long distraction from the bounty scandal.
Getting back to even was just the first step. New Orleans' next three games come against teams currently in first place, starting with a home game next week against the Bay Area's other team, the San Francisco 49ers, followed by games against Atlanta and the New York Giants.
The Raiders (3-7) lost their third straight game under first-year coach Dennis Allen as their banged-up defense got picked apart by Brees' precision passing. Oakland has allowed 135 points in those defeats — the most in a three-game span for the franchise since allowing 141 in the first three games in 1961.
Carson Palmer threw one interception that was returned for a score and another in the end zone, the Raiders left receivers open all day and Oakland struggled to tackle in another thorough beating. The Raiders have been outscored by 56 points the past two games.
The Saints did just about everything starting with an efficient opening drive by Brees that set the tone for the game. Brees finished 20 for 27 for 219 yards, extending his own records by throwing a touchdown in his 53rd straight game and completing 20 passes for the 46th straight game.
He did it against one of his favorite opponents. Brees has won his last seven starts against the Raiders with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in those wins.
Even New Orleans' much-maligned defense got into the act. The Saints got the two big turnovers in the first half that got the blowout started and held Oakland to one touchdown until garbage time.
About the only bright spot for the Raiders was fullback Marcel Reece, who rushed for 103 yards and added 90 yards receiving as he started at halfback in place of injured Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson.
Brees broke open a close game late in the first half when he found Moore all alone in the end zone behind Michael Huff and fill-in safety Mike Mitchell for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half to make it 21-7.
Travaris Cadet then returned the second-half kickoff 75 yards and Ingram ran it in from the 27 on the next play and the rout was on. Brees and Moore connected one more time in third quarter to make it 35-10.
The Saints easily scored on their first possession as Brees completed five of six passes on an 80-yard drive capped by a 1-yard toss to Jimmy Graham.
Palmer then threw a pair of interceptions on passes to Brandon Myers with Malcolm Jenkins returning the first 55 yards for a touchdown and Roman Harper picking the second one off in the end zone after it went through Myers' hands.
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