FOXBORO, Mass., Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Tom Brady, named during the week as New England's starting quarterback for the rest of the year, threw for four touchdowns and completed more than 70 percent of his passes Sunday to carry the Patriots past the New Orleans Saints, 34-17.
Antowain Smith balanced the offense with 111 rushing yards and a touchdown.
New England improved to 6-5, but remained in third place in the AFC East -- 1 1/2 games behind the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
Brady has gone 6-3 as the starter since replacing Drew Bledsoe, who suffered internal injuries against the New York Jets on Sept. 23. He has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,869 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"You learn to deal with it," Brady said of the quarterback controversy. "It's taken focus from preparing for the game each week. Now it's to the point where you worry about yourself. It's my responsibilty to have myself ready to play. Any team is lucky to have him (Bledsoe)."
Selected with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft, Bledsoe is the Patriots' all-time leader in passing yardage, attempts and completions.
In addition to gaining more than 100 yards for the third time in four games, Smith recorded his first career receiving touchdown as the Patriots beat the Saints (5-5) for the seventh time in their 10 meetings.
"When we're able to run the ball, we're pretty tough to stop. Antowain is playing great football," Brady said.
The Patriots gained a season-high 191 yards as they controlled the ball for 35:47. New England registered a season-best 432 total net yards on offense.
Smith redeemed himself after last week's costly error. On the verge of increasing their lead with a first and goal from the St. Louis four, Smith fumbled and the Rams recovered. That play proved decisive as quarterback Kurt Warner orchestrated an eight-play, 97-yard drive before halftime that put the Rams ahead for good.
A week after playing his best game of the season in a win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Saints' Aaron Brooks threw for 307 yards and a touchdown and ran for 65 yards on seven carries. But the third-year quarterback was intercepted twice as New Orleans lost for the third time in its last four games.
"What they did, we couldn't counter it," Brooks said. "Brady played a good game and did what he had to do to win the game. He didn't put his team in a bad situation."
Ricky Williams also failed to duplicate his form of the past two weeks. Rushing for 121 and 120 yards against San Francisco and Indianapolis, respectively, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner gained just 56 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown.
"He never had a chance. We ran a no-huddle most of the game," Saints coach Jim Haslett said.
Williams entered the game leading the NFC in rushing with 856 yards to go along with four touchdowns.
The Saints reduced their deficit to 27-17 with 8:15 left in the game. Brooks' seven-yard pass to Willie Jackson capped a 13-play, 83-yard drive.
But the Patriots used their running game to maintain possession and wind the clock down. Smith carried on three of the first four plays of New England's 10-play, 68-yard drive, which lasted 5:50.
Second-year running back J.R. Redmond spelled Smith, picking up 20 yards on four carries, moving the ball to the New Orleans three. Smith got the clinching score, running over right guard for three yards to increase New England's lead to 17.
The Patriots tallied all the points they needed by halftime, scoring three touchdowns to take a 20-0 lead.
Brady found receiver Troy Brown with an 18-yard pass on third and three to prolong the game's opening drive. On the sixth play of the 85-yard drive, Brady hit Smith with a screen pass that the running back turned into a 41-yard touchdown to give New England a 7-0 lead 3:25 into the game.
New England's second touchdown came with help from New Orleans. Cornerback Fred Thomas was flagged for pass interference to advance the Patriots to the Saints' eight.
Brady hit Brown with an eight-yard touchdown pass, but New England's two-point conversion attempt failed and the Patriots settled for a 13-0 cushion.
"We just played poor on defense," Haslett said. "I can't think of anyone that played well. Our corners were spinning around like tops. We could not get a running game going because we were always trying to play catch up."
Brown continued to produce for New England, finishing the day with seven receptions for 91 yards. The nine-year veteran from Marshall has made 50 catches for 629 yards in the last seven games.
Brady displayed his clock-management skills on the Patriots' final possession of the half, engineering a six-play, 78-yard drive in just 1:40.
After being fortunate not to fumble away the ball after being sacked at the New England 15, Brady followed Smith's runs of 12 and 11 yards with an 11-yard effort of his own to advance the Patriots to midfield.