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Saints-Bengals Preview

Only once in their first eight games did the New Orleans Saints score 30 points, a total that was practically a given last season during their 13-0 start.

Turns out that championship form hasn't disappeared after all.

Drew Brees and the Saints have hung at least 30 points on their last three opponents during a four-game winning streak, a rhythm they'll look to continue Sunday when they visit Paul Brown Stadium hoping to hand the Cincinnati Bengals a ninth consecutive loss.

New Orleans (8-3) was an offensive juggernaut last season, averaging 35.9 points during its 13-0 start and scoring at least 30 in three postseason games en route to capturing its first Super Bowl.

The Saints averaged 20.9 points during the first half of 2010, but they suddenly appear to be rounding into form. New Orleans put up 34 points in wins over Carolina and Seattle, then got a 12-yard TD pass from Brees to Lance Moore with 1:55 left on Thanksgiving to cap a 30-27 comeback victory in Dallas.

"We've just taken a very aggressive mentality," said Brees, who's averaging 329.6 passing yards over his last five games. "We're kind of getting back to our brand of football with great tempo obviously, a lot of formations, a lot of personnel groups, a lot of guys involved, taking shots down field."

The big plays have returned the past two weeks after being few and far between in the first half. The Saints had 15 completions of 25 yards or more in their first nine games - 20th in the league - but had seven plays of that length against the Seahawks and Cowboys.

New Orleans leads the league in third-down conversions (49.7 percent), but that doesn't mean Brees and the offense have been perfect everywhere. The Saints have scored a TD in the red zone on 45.7 percent of their trips - 25th in the league - and have left with points 78.3 percent of the time - 29th.

"It's something that we clearly pay attention to. We've had opportunities," coach Sean Payton said. "The good news is that we're (first) in the league in red zone drive opportunities, and now it's just being more efficient with those drives and coming away with more touchdowns than field goals."

Getting Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey back could help. Thomas may return from a severely sprained left ankle that's kept him out since Week 3, while Shockey - who has 31 catches for 314 yards and three TDs - could be back after missing two games with bruised ribs.

Add in the likely return of safety Darren Sharper - who has sat out the past two contests with a strained hamstring - and New Orleans could be in great shape to catch NFC South-leading Atlanta.

The only thing the Bengals (2-9) have a shot at securing is the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. Cincinnati is mired in its sixth eight-game losing streak in the past 20 years after a 26-10 road defeat against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night.

The Bengals' offense hit rock bottom, totaling a season-low 163 yards and increasing its turnover total to 25 - second-most in the AFC - with three more giveaways.

"It's something different in every phase of the game every week," receiver Terrell Owens said. "We find ways to put ourselves in the hole. I'm out of answers."

Despite the fact that two of the team's three double-digit losses have come in the past two weeks, Owens' reality show co-host and fellow receiver had a different take on Cincinnati's problems.

"No point in getting mad," Chad Ochocinco said. "We're close. The score might not reflect it. But for a mishap here, a mishap there, we're in this one."

Ochocinco, however, seems to have his mind elsewhere. On Wednesday, the avid Twitter user began a back-and-forth trash talking session with Sharper by tweeting "Thinking of fighting Darren Sharper in pre-game just because I can win."

As productive as the Saints' offense has been lately, it hasn't been immune to turnovers. New Orleans has given the ball away 11 times in its last five games, and Brees' 15 interceptions have him tied with Cincinnati's Michael Johnson for third-most in the league.

The Bengals certainly need to produce turnovers to have a chance. They've forced four in each of their victories.

Cincinnati has won the series' last three games dating to 1994, including 31-16 in 2006. Brees threw for a career-high 510 yards but was picked off three times, while Ochocinco caught three TDs from Palmer.

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