New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after the Saints-Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, December 18, 2016. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 48-41.Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After going through the worst two-game stretch of his illustrious career, Drew Brees was nothing but confident that he'd get things turned around Sunday on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.
"I'm a confident guy," said Brees, who for the first time in his 16 seasons went two straight games without a touchdown pass and was intercepted three times in each loss to Detroit and Tampa Bay. "I know how to correct things when they occur. ... I know I've got to be better in certain ways. I'll do that."
Brees passed for four touchdowns and 383 yards with no interceptions -- becoming the first opposing quarterback to pass for 300 yards against the Cardinals this season -- and the Saints downed Arizona 48-41 in a shootout at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The combined 89 points scored made it the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season. The teams also combined for 59 first downs, including 33 by the Saints.
Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns for the Saints (6-8) while David Johnson established an NFL record with the Cardinals (5-8-1) by becoming the first player in league history to amass 100 or more yards from scrimmage in each of his first 14 games to start a season.
"Yes, it's good for him," Saints coach Sean Payton said about seeing Brees be able to bounce back after two rough games in a row. "It was good for the coach, too."
Brees, who completed 37 of 48 passes for a 127.9 rating, found Michael Thomas on a 4-yard scoring strike with 5:33 remaining that snapped a tie at 34.
The Cardinals had plenty of time to drive down the field and tie it up once again, but Brittan Golden fumbled the ball back to the Saints after catching a short pass and former Arizona running back Tim Hightower added his second short rushing touchdown for New Orleans to break things open, 48-34.
Carson Palmer connected with John Brown for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 2:19 left to play to pull Arizona within seven points, but the Cardinals couldn't get the ball back and Brees' six-yard first-down completion to tight end Coby Fleener with 1:45 left to play allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.
"Obviously, not the outcome we were looking for," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Way too many big plays, defensively. ... I'm extremely pleased with the offensive line. I thought they did a great job. Carson was lights out. And I think you have to acknowledge anyone that does something for the first time in the history of the NFL. That's very unique, so I'm very happy for David. I'm very proud of him."
The loss assures Arizona of its first losing season in four years under Arians. The Saints, meanwhile, are assured of their third consecutive non-winning season amid rumors earlier in the day of a potential front-office shakeup looming after season's end and reports that Payton could be on the move as well.
"That's the first I have heard of it," said Brees, who joined Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks in history to throw at least four touchdowns in a game with no interceptions at least 21 times. "I would completely blow it off. Again, we're worried about what is right in front of us and this season. We're not worried about anything else right now."
Palmer was 28 of 40 for 318 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Johnson accounted for 108 total yards with 12 carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns and four catches for 55 yards. Palmer thinks Johnson should be a viable candidate for league Most Valuable Player honors despite the team's record.
"Absolutely," Palmer said. "I think he's, if not the best, one of the best players in this game. There's obviously an argument for a lot of (players) ... but there's no doubt that he's one of a kind."
Brees threw three of his touchdowns in the first half to help the Saints to a 24-20 lead after two quarters.
Kerwynn Williams, a reserve running back for the Cardinals, raced 49 yards down the right sideline to give Arizona the early lead. But after Wil Lutz kicked a 37-yard field goal for New Orleans, Paul Kruger stripped Larry Fitzgerald of the ball after a short completion and Craig Robertson recovered. Eight plays later, Brees found Travaris Cadet for a 10-yard touchdown to help put the Saints ahead10-7.
Cadet burned All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson on the play, faking in and then bouncing his route outside to get wide open on the touchdown pass before Peterson closed in.
Brees began driving the Saints downfield on his next possession, but Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden knocked the ball loose and into Calais Campbell's hands. The 6-foot-8 defensive tackle managed to return the fumble 53 yards for the first defensive touchdown of his nine-year career.
Just 57 seconds later, Brees hit Cooks on a play-action call that confused Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger for a 65-yard touchdown. Before the second quarter was done, the two hooked up once again, with Cooks easily pulling away from safety Tyrann Mathieu for a 45-yard touchdown catch and run.
"Just going back to the basics, turning out the outside noise and sticking to what we do," Cooks, who groused about his lack of targets recently, said of his big day.
The Cardinals ended the half with a 10-yard scoring strike from Palmer to J.J. Nelson and a 16-yard sack of Brees by Campbell.
Arizona was playing its first game without wide receiver Michael Floyd, who was released two days after being arrested on suspicion of DUI and was claimed off waivers by the New England Patriots. Palmer said that had no bearing on Sunday's loss.
"No. We have some young guys, but we're a veteran team to know how to handle that," he said. "And I think we handled it the right way. Obviously, you lose a friend, a teammate, to a situation like that it's difficult. But I think we got over it fast because we have good leaders and good vets in our room."
According to a CBS Sports report on Sunday, the Saints are considering trading coach Sean Payton "should there be suitors" and the team "may be undergoing a front office restructuring of sorts." Payton signed a five-year extension that offseason that runs through the 2020 season.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald appeared in his 200th game for the Cardinals on Sunday, joining kicker Jim Bakken (234) as the only players to appear in 200 games with the Cardinals.
Cooks on Sunday became the first Saints receiver to reach 1,000 receiving yards in consecutive seasons since Marques Colston (2009-12).
DT Calais Campbell's two sacks of Drew Brees give him 54½ in his career, moving him ahead of Simeon Rice and into sole possession of second place in Cardinals' history.