With Saints' WR corps depleted, Drew Brees throws 4 TD passes to undrafted players

NEW ORLEANS -- Who was Dat?!

Quarterback Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes to four undrafted players on Thursday night, as the New Orleans Saints beat the rival Atlanta Falcons 31-17 for their 10th straight victory.

The Saints are the first team in the Super Bowl era to have four undrafted players with a receiving touchdown in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Also, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, New Orleans is the first team since the 1984 Pittsburgh Steelers to have four players score their first or second career touchdowns in the same game.

Brees also tied an NFL record -- set by Falcons QB Matt Ryan in 2016 -- by throwing TD passes to 13 different players this season.

Those four players (third-year WR Tommylee Lewis, second-year WR Austin Carr, first-year TE Dan Arnold and rookie WR Keith Kirkwood) had a total of two career TD catches heading into Thursday's game.

"You know, it says a lot about them. It says a lot about taking advantage of the opportunity and stepping up when we need it," Brees said. "You know, we're down some receivers from the beginning of the year until now. And these guys are having to step into some roles and do some things that maybe were unexpected. And yet it's fun to watch them grow and gain confidence and build a chemistry."

He added: "For all of them to play the way they did, each get a touchdown on Thanksgiving day, all their family and friends watching at home, is pretty cool."

Brees, who is having a season for the ages at age 39, hasn't had any trouble improvising while the injuries keep piling up in New Orleans' receiving corps this season.

Rookie starter Tre'Quan Smith was ruled inactive with a foot injury before Thursday's game, and the Saints have also lost veteran receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith and Dez Bryant to injured reserve as the season has gone on. They signed veteran Brandon Marshall for depth last week, but he has not appeared in a game yet.

Yet the Saints (10-1) keep rolling on, with the NFL's highest-scoring offense (37.2 points per game). Brees has thrown 29 TD passes on the season, with just two interceptions (including one in the first quarter on Thursday night).

"We've been telling you this. [Brees is] the GOAT, man. He's the GOAT," Saints running back Mark Ingram said. "If you're at where you're supposed to be, he's going to find you. And testament to those guys stepping up and making big plays."

Brees showed similar improvisational skills earlier this week in Sunday's 48-7 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were the first defense to really focus on taking both receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara out of the Saints' passing game by repeatedly double-teaming both. Brees said he went to the young receivers on the sideline and told them, "You guys are the matchups. The ball's coming to you. So get ready. We're gonna have a big day."

Sure enough, Smith had a breakout game, with 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown, Carr caught his first career TD pass, and Kirkwood caught three passes for 33 yards in the first quarter of his second NFL game.

"To all those young guys that are out there who don't get drafted, and who don't get that call on draft day, just keep going. Keep pushing because your opportunity is going to come, and it's [what] you do with it," said Kirkwood, who was promoted from the practice squad two weeks ago. "Are you going to take advantage of it, or are you going to fold? You see a true testament to this organization, to this team of how undrafted players make a name for themselves here, so I think it definitely showed today."

After adding Carr, Arnold and Kirkwood to his resume over the past five days, Brees has thrown TD passes to 51 players in his 13 years with the Saints.

Smith's injury shouldn't be a long-term one. He was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday and said he was optimistic that he would be able to able to play.

The Saints play again Thursday night at Dallas.