- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

NEW ORLEANS | A new start with the New Orleans Saints has put “the shake” back in 33-year-old Darren Sharper.

The NFL’s active leader in career interceptions added two more against rookie Mark Sanchez, returning one a club-record 99 yards for a touchdown to help the unbeaten Saints hand the New York Jets their first loss of the season, 24-10 on Sunday.

Sharper’s trademark shoulder-shaking celebrations are becoming a symbol of a defense that now can take credit for leading New Orleans to victory after taking the blame for the Saints’ failure to make the playoffs the past two seasons.

The 12-year veteran’s five interceptions — two of which he has returned for scores — have helped the Saints start 4-0 for the first time since 1993.

“Sharp’s been a great addition,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You look at his productivity here over the first four games. … That’s pretty impressive.”

Brees added: “The defense played outstanding once again.”

The victory ensured the Saints, who have a bye week coming up, still would be unbeaten when they host the New York Giants on Oct. 18. The Giants (4-0) host struggling Oakland next weekend, giving them a good shot at remaining undefeated as well.

The Jets-Saints matchup drew a lot of attention not only because it was the weekend’s only game between unbeaten teams but also because it pitted a fearsome defense designed by Jets coach Rex Ryan against the Saints’ league-leading offense, driven by Brees’ prolific passing and the creative playcalling of coach Sean Payton.

New York (3-1) stopped the Saints twice on fourth-and-short and held Brees to 190 yards passing and no touchdowns. After averaging 40 points through their first three games, the Saints didn’t score an offensive touchdown until Pierre Thomas barreled in from a yard out with 6:07 left. Yet that was enough for two-touchdown win.

“It’s not about one side of the ball versus the other,” Payton said, seemingly annoyed by all the attention given to the matchup of his offense and Ryan’s defense. “All three phases are needed to win football games, and I thought we did that today.”

One week after rushing for 126 yards and two scores in a victory at Buffalo, Thomas was the Saints’ offensive leader again. He rushed for 86 yards and caught four short passes for 46 yards. The Saints rushed for 153 yards as a team.

“The Saints outplayed us today,” Ryan said. “They forced a lot of turnovers and scored with them. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They ran the ball pretty effectively against us as well.”

In his first loss as a pro, the Jets’ Sanchez completed 14 of 27 passes for 138 yards and was sacked four times. That still might have been good enough if not for his four turnovers. Saints cornerback Randall Gay also intercepted Sanchez inside the final two minutes, allowing New Orleans to run out the clock.

“My mistakes killed us. They absolutely killed us,” Sanchez said. “The defense played well enough to win. That whole game is 10-10 without three interceptions and a fumble. You turn the ball over like that in this league, and you can’t win.”

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