OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — For a team whose recent history includes a Super Bowl title and playoff runs, reaching.500 midway through November would seem like a modest goal.
After the way this season started for the New Orleans Saints, it was a cause for celebration.
Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes and Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception for another score to help the Saints get back to even after an 0-4 start by beating the Oakland Raiders 38-17 on Sunday.
"It's been a journey," said tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught Brees' first TD pass. "It's been an uphill battle to be .500. I never thought I'd be so happy to be .500 in my entire career. We're excited because things are moving the right way for us."
Lance Moore caught two touchdown passes and Mark Ingram ran for a score as the Saints (5-5) won for the fifth time in six games and are in position to make a late-season playoff run despite the season-long distraction from the bounty scandal.
Getting back to even was just the first step. New Orleans' next three games come against teams currently in first place, starting with a home game next week against the Bay Area's other team, the San Francisco 49ers, followed by games against Atlanta and the New York Giants.
"We're on our way," Brees said. "Had you told us or anybody after 0-4 we'd be looking at 5-5 at some point, I think a lot of people might have looked at that and said that's pretty unrealistic. But here we are. We stayed the course, we didn't overreact. ... We just knew that things were going to turn for us if we just continued to do things the right way, good things were going to happen. And we did that."
The Raiders (3-7) lost their third straight game under first-year coach Dennis Allen as their banged-up defense got picked apart by Brees' precision passing. Oakland has allowed 135 points in those defeats — the most in a three-game span for the franchise since allowing 141 in the first three games in 1961.
Owner Mark Davis made a rare appearance in the locker room after the game and said he wasn't happy with what he has seen the last few weeks.
"I'm patient. But I want to see progress," he said. "I don't want to see regression. Nobody does. And that's why I'm unhappy today."
Carson Palmer threw one interception that was returned for a score and another in the end zone, the Raiders left receivers open all day and Oakland struggled to tackle in another thorough beating. The Raiders have been outscored by 56 points the past two games.
The Saints did just about everything starting with an efficient opening drive by Brees that set the tone for the game. Brees finished 20 for 27 for 219 yards, extending his own records by throwing a touchdown in his 53rd straight game and completing 20 passes for the 46th straight game.
Even New Orleans' much-maligned defense got into the act. The Saints got the two big turnovers in the first half that got the blowout started and held Oakland to one touchdown until garbage time.
"I feel better than where we were," said safety Roman Harper, who had the interception in the end zone. "We're making plays now. We're making turnovers, we're making big plays. We're not allowing big plays.
Vitt's biggest complaints were the 11 penalties for 109 yards, including a celebration call on Jenkins and Harper after an interception and a taunting penalty on Ingram after his score.
The only bright spot for the Raiders was fullback Marcel Reece, who rushed for 103 yards and added 90 yards receiving as he started at halfback in place of injured Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson.
Brees broke open a close game late in the first half when he found Moore all alone in the end zone behind Michael Huff and fill-in safety Mike Mitchell for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half to make it 21-7.
Travaris Cadet then returned the second-half kickoff 75 yards and Ingram ran it in from the 27 on the next play and the rout was on. Brees and Moore connected one more time in third quarter to make it 35-10.
"It doesn't make you feel good," Allen said. "I know we're better than that, and I know we can play better than that. And we'll continue to work, and we'll get better."
NOTES: Brees has won his last seven starts against the Raiders with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. ... The Raiders failed to score in the final 2 minutes of the first half for the first time this season. ... Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden lit the torch honoring late Oakland owner Al Davis.
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