- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008

NEW ORLEANS | Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton pounded his fist into the Louisiana Superdome turf after Pierre Thomas bowled over him for a first down.

The game-sealing carry provided the perfect punctuation for the Saints’ undrafted, second-year running back after the most important performance of his young career.

Thomas rushed for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns, helping New Orleans keep alive its slim playoff hopes with a 29-25 victory over division rival Atlanta on Sunday.

“He’s a great young talent. He comes up big for us when need be,” Saints fullback Mike Karney said. “He had to earn his way and get a feel for what’s going on. He’s done that, and the coaches are going to him.”



Thomas scored his first touchdown on a 7-yard screen early in the fourth quarter. He powered in for the winning touchdown on a 5-yard toss sweep, bouncing over offensive lineman Carl Nicks as he stretched for the goal line. Thomas also set up that last score with an 88-yard kickoff return after Matt Ryan’s 12-yard scramble had given the Falcons a 25-22 lead with 7:51 to go.

New Orleans needed a clutch carry from Karney on that drive as well. Saints coach Sean Payton decided against trying a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 7. The 5-foot-11, 255-pound Karney pushed the line of scrimmage for 2 yards.

“The line did a great job up front, and I was able to ride the wave and get that yard,” Karney said.

Reggie Bush added 80 yards rushing, including a career-long 43-yard run that set up his 5-yard touchdown catch.

Drew Brees was 18-for-32 for 230 yards and two touchdowns in one of the most balanced performances this season by New Orleans’ normally pass-heavy offense. The Saints (7-6) finished with a season-high 184 yards rushing.

A week earlier, the Saints rushed 18 times for 44 yards in a 23-20 loss at Tampa Bay. Payton pledged more balance against Atlanta (8-5).

“We wanted to make that a point - that we could run the ball on these guys,” Thomas said. “[Payton] had faith in us to run the ball hard. We took it to ‘em.”

Late last season, Thomas made his first start in his hometown of Chicago (where New Orleans plays on Thursday) and became the only Saints player to eclipse 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game. That was in a loss that formally eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs.

Thomas hadn’t rushed for 100 yards again until Sunday’s win.

Ryan was 24-for-33 for 315 yards, one touchdown and an interception by Jason David, whose 23-yard return to midfield led to Bush’s touchdown in the first quarter.

“I can’t make those kind of mistakes when we’re moving the ball and about to score points,” Ryan said. “Obviously we’re frustrated with the outcome. But this team hasn’t given up all year. … We still have everything that we want in front of us. We’re capable of getting into the playoffs.”

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