By Brett Martel, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Saints raced out to the lead behind Drew Brees' fast start, then Malcolm Jenkins protected it with a pair of big defensive plays.
Brees threw for three scores, Jenkins returned one of his two interceptions 96 yards for his first career touchdown, and New Orleans won its sixth straight game 31-13 over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
Marques Colston had a pair of touchdown catches in traffic as New Orleans (10-3) jumped to a 14-0 lead and never trailed. Lance Moore made a 31-yard touchdown catch.
Brees finished 25 of 40 for 221 yards and was intercepted twice.
Rams rookie Sam Bradford scored the only St. Louis touchdown on a short keeper. He passed for 231 yards and was intercepted twice, both times near the Saints' goal line.
Bradford's first interception was especially costly, giving the Saints a 21-6 lead when it appeared the Rams (6-7) were about to pull within one score late in the second quarter.
Steven Jackson rushed for 96 yards but turned the ball over once on a fumble, stalling a promising drive across midfield.
Although the Rams fell below .500, they remained in a first-place tie in the NFC West with Seattle (6-7), which lost at San Francisco.
That means St. Louis could conceivably host New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs if the Rams hold on to win their division and the Saints are unable to surpass Atlanta (11-2) in the NFC West.
If that matchup pans out, the Saints will have to like their chances, even on the road.
The Saints rushed for 132 yards as a team, helped by the return of Pierre Thomas, who had missed the last nine games with a sprained left ankle. He and Reggie Bush each rushed for 39 yards and rookie Chris Ivory rushed for 47 in the first half before his right hamstring got tight and he was rested for the remainder of the game.
Thomas also caught four passes out of the backfield for 29 yards.
Moore caught five passes for 70 yards and Colston had five catches for 46 yards.
The Saints converted 10 of their first 12 third-down plays en route to a 28-6 third-quarter lead. St. Louis failed to convert its first eight third downs and kicker Josh Brown made matters worse by missing one of three field goal attempts as New Orleans pulled away. The Rams finished 1 of 11 on third downs.
The Saints sacked Bradford twice on blitzes and repeatedly pressured him into rushed, inaccurate throws. Jonathan Vilma had the first sack and stripped the ball for what wound up as a 22-yard, drive-stalling loss after the Rams recovered.
The Saints used two long drives and another big defensive play to vault to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Brees completed 13 of his first 15 passes and capped drives of 72 and 61 yards with scoring throws to Colston. In between, Roman Harper stripped Jackson on a long run and Jabari Greer recovered at the Saints 39 to set up the second scoring drive.
The Rams were able to move the ball, but two failed third-down plays forced them to settle for field goals and a 14-6 deficit late in the first half.
After the second field goal, Courtney Roby was injured and fumbled during the kickoff return, giving St. Louis the ball at the Saints 21. Soon after, however, Bradford's pass was intercepted by Jenkins, who had clear field in front of him and scored easily to make it 21-6 at halftime.
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