Originally created 12/09/96

Hebert-led Atlanta prevails



NEW ORLEANS - The Atlanta Falcons took a step back in next spring's draft by moving up in the win column.

Bobby Hebert overcame two interceptions and a fumble to throw three touchdown passes as the Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints 31-15 on Sunday.

The victory moved Atlanta (3-11) ahead of the Saints (2-12) in the draft order. The New York Jets (1-13) have the worst record in the league.

"It was good to get a win on the road," Atlanta coach June Jones said. "It makes the flight home a lot better."

Jones, whose job is in jeopardy, would rather see enough victories to prove he should be around next spring.

"We'll worry about the draft when the season is over," Jones said.

Befitting a game between two of the league's worst teams, play was sloppy. The Falcons were penalized nine times for 70 yards and had a touchdown and 84-yard fumble return nullified. The Saints drew 12 penalties for 76 yards.

"For us it was just too much bad ball, really," Saints interim coach Rick Venturi said. "Penalties, fumbles, dropped passes, shoddy tackling - you're not going to be very good in that situation."

Atlanta led 31-9 in the fourth quarter, and Hebert completed 20 of 29 for 198 yards.

In a series that had been settled two of the last three times by a field goal, the Saints got an early edge just that way. New Orleans took a 3-0 lead on Doug Brien's 34-yard field goal 8:36 into the game. The Saints didn't lead again, and Brien had a 41-yard attempt in the second quarter blocked.

The Falcons answered with a 68-yard drive that included a 25-yard reception by Craig Heyward, 16- and 14-yard catches by J.J. Birden and a 3-yard touchdown reception by Mitch Lyons.

Atlanta stretched the lead to 14-3 with a 4-yard touchdown reception by Eric Metcalf 29 seconds before halftime.

Atlanta took the first-half lead despite two interceptions by Hebert and two fumbles.

The Saints were even worse, turning the ball over on an interception and converting on just three of 12 third downs.

"I'm not going to say I'd like to see the season end," Saints tackle William Roaf said. "I'd like the season to end on a positive note. But we're not doing what it takes to win games."

New Orleans committed another turnover early in the third quarter when Mario Bates fumbled on the Saints 24-yard line. A 1-yard run by Heyward, who ran nine times for 47 yards, gave Atlanta a 21-3 lead.

Doug Nussmeier, making his first pro start in place of the injured Jim Everett, threw his first NFL touchdown, a 57-yard strike to rookie Terry Guess, who got his first TD catch to pull the Saints to 21-9.

But New Orleans' 2-point conversion attempt failed when Nussmeier was sacked.

Atlanta continued to roll as Hebert connected with Bert Emanuel on a 3-yard TD catch with 10:07 left in the fourth quarter. Morten Andersen kicked a 33-yard field goal with 6:11 left, putting the Falcons up 31-9.

Bates scored on a 4-yard rush with 2:05 left in the game, but the Saints failed for a second time to make the 2-point conversion.

Nussmeier was 21-of-35 for 171 yards and a touchdown.