NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Chris Chandler threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns as part of a balanced attack Sunday and the Atlanta Falcons got a big second half from their defense in a 20-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Chandler has always been plagued by injuries, but when healthy is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He led the Falcons to the Super Bowl two seasons ago and is making it hard for top overall pick Michael Vick to get playing time.
The 14-year veteran completed 14 of 20 passes, including scoring tosses of 57 yards to rookie tight end Alge Crumpler in the first quarter and 39 to Shawn Jefferson in the final period that snapped a 10-10 tie.
"They are the best defense that we have played all year," said Chandler, a two-time Pro Bowler. "You want to try to stay out of the long third downs because their schemes are difficult and they are going to put a lot of pressure on everybody."
In seven starts for Atlanta against New Orleans, Chandler is 87 of 129 for 1,345 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"Chris did a great job," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "This is a tough place to play. He handled the clock very well. He handled the silent count very well."
Led by middle linebacker Keith Brooking, the defense limited the Saints to just a field goal in the second half. Brooking had 10 tackles, a sack and two passes defensed.
"The thing we did was stuff 'em early and often," Brooking said. "Pass rush and coverage go hand in hand and we did a great job on coverage. Our DBs have been catching all kinds of hell back in Atlanta so this was a big game for them."
The Saints were held to season lows in first downs (12), rushing yards (63) and total yards (276). They also surrendered a season-high five sacks.
"Our defense did a great job," Falcons cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. "We played solid. Our defensive coordinator (Don Blackmon) asked us how we wanted to play this week. We told him we wanted to play aggressive, so that's what we did for four quarters. You hit 'em in the mouth like we did, and they'll lay down."
"If you want to put it on the offense, put it on the offense," Saints receiver Joe Horn said. "We'll take it."
Atlanta held New Orleans running back Ricky Williams to 51 yards on 21 carries, including just five on eight after halftime. The Falcons did not allow a second-half third-down conversion until the two-minute warning.
"Ricky Williams is going to get some yards," Reeves said. "I thought we contained him. We were still pounding on him and hitting him. He was making some yards, but we just felt that we had to keep staying after him."
"We were going to try and run the ball and we did in the first half," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "In the second half, we didn't run the ball very well."
The Saints pulled within 20-13 on a 31-yard field goal by John Carney with 26 seconds left. Safety Sammy Knight recovered the ensuing onside kick at the New Orleans 43 and a 25-yard pass from Aaron Brooks to Robert Wilson gave the Saints one final chance.
From the Falcons' 32 with two seconds remaining, Brooks threw a high pass into the end zone that was batted down by Atlanta's Brian Finneran, a 6-5 receiver inserted as a defensive back.
Crumpler had five catches for 78 yards and Jefferson had three for 67. Maurice Smith rushed for a career-high 83 yards on 22 carries for the Falcons (3-3), who have won 11 of the last 13 meetings in the series.
Aaron Brooks was 23 of 39 for 249 yards, an interception and a touchdown. Williams caught nine passes for 65 yards and Horn added five for 74.
It did not take long for the Falcons to score. On their first possession, Smith had a 22-yard run before Chandler hit Crumpler down the middle of the field. The big tight end made the catch at the New Orleans 24, shook off a tackler and rumbled into the end zone just 1:51 into the contest.
"The hardest part was trying to find Alge after the play fake," Chandler said. "I got the ball to him a little late, but once he catches the ball, he can do great things."
On Atlanta's next possession, an 11-yard pass from Chandler to Crumpler set up Jay Feely's 31-yard field goal.
New Orleans tied it in the second quarter. A 33-yard pass from Brooks to Horn set up Carney's 23-yard field goal under two minutes into the period and his 19-yard scoring toss to tight end Cameron Cleeland made it 10-10 with 4:56 left.
But the Falcons clamped down in the second half. They allowed just eight yards on the Saints' first 20 plays after halftime.
"It was a hard-hitting football game," Reeves said. "That's one of the better games I've seen just from the hitting that was going on, the tackling and swarming to the football."
"Aaron didn't have a lot of time to throw the ball, so he kept dumping it off," Brooking said.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, Chandler kept a drive alive with a third-down pass before finding Jefferson on a crossing route for the go-ahead touchdown.
Smith's 10-yard run set up a 38-yard kick by Feely with 2:34 to go that appeared to seal the game. But the Saints quickly drove to a 31-yard field goal by Carney and recovered the onside kick.