Up next: First look at New Orleans

After losing three of their last four games to watch most of their terrific 5-1 start evaporate, the reeling Saints suddenly needed a win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to get back on track. They also needed a good offensive performance to take the sour taste out of their mouth, a taste that came with 12 turnovers in their last three losses.

That was a tough stretch that dropped the Saints into a first-place tie in the NFC South. But when they did not turn the ball over and came away with a 31-13 win over the plummeting Falcons, the Saints had something else to be happy about:

A return to sole-possession of first place in the division race with five games remaining in the regular season.

After stumbling through their last two games with seven costly turnovers, the Saints' offense came up with the right formula to snap their first two-game losing streak of the season.

The game plan was to come out and be aggressive against the Falcons' 29th-ranked pass defense and take care of the ball, which served them well from the start and led to the easy win.

It didn't hurt that the Saints had no giveaways, but they sent a message on the game's third play when Drew Brees dropped back and connected with Devery Henderson on a 76-yard touchdown pass to give the Saints a quick 7-0 advantage.

"We wanted to be aggressive," said Brees, whose throw on third-and-seven to Henderson was right on the money. "We had the mindset coming in that we wanted to be physical and establish the run. But on third-down situations, we wanted to take our shots and capitalize on them. It was a great way to start the game."

If nothing else, it was a wonderful way to forget the misery of the past two weeks.

But, as it turned out, the best was yet to come. The win, coupled with the Washington Redskins' 17-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers, helped the Saints (7-4) regain a one-game lead over the Panthers (6-5) in the division and knock the Falcons (5-6) back another game.

"It's our seventh win, that's what it means," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Obviously, it was significant for us because we had lost two in a row. So, putting an end to the slide, getting a win on the road, a division opponent, the NFC - those are the things that are significant about it."

While they weren't about to panic after two setbacks, the Saints knew they had to put their recent error-filled performances behind them in a hurry - or risk having their season go south really fast.

"We knew we just had to come out and get a little momentum in the game," said Henderson, who finished with four catches for 158 yards in filling in for an injured Marques Colston. "It kind of helped us out pretty good."

Brees threw for 349 yards, marking the fifth straight game that he had surpassed the 300-yard mark. But he was more impressed with how the Saints protected the ball.

"That was the emphasis (today) and that will be the emphasis here on out," he said. "When we don't commit any turnovers, it gives us a great chance to win and doesn't put our defense in any tough situations."

--- WR Marques Colston was inactive for Sunday's game with the Atlanta Falcons because of a sprained left ankle.
--- WR Devery Henderson started for Colston and caught four passes for 158 yards and a 76-yard touchdown on the game's third play.
--- LCB Fred Thomas didn't play against the Falcons after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on Tuesday.
--- LCB Jason Craft, who is usually the nickel back in the Saints' five-defensive back alignment, got the start in place of Thomas.
--- CB DeJuan Groce, who moved up to the nickel package with CB Jason Craft starting, sprained his neck early in the fourth quarter and did not return. X-rays were negative.
--- TE Ernie Conwell was active for the first time since having arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 18.
--- TE Mark Campbell once again started in place of Conwell against the Falcons.
--- RB Aaron Stecker missed Sunday's game with a sprained ankle.
--- FS Bryan Scott was inactive Sunday because of an injured left foot.
--- K Billy Cundiff, who was signed on Wednesday for his strong leg, took over the kickoff duties for John Carney.

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