NFL Wire News

Falcons 30, Saints 14


NEW ORLEANS — Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown and Matt Bryant kicked three field goals to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 30-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints and keep their NFC South title hopes alive Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Falcons (6-9) will host Carolina (6-8-1) next Sunday, with the NFC South championship and fourth seed in the playoffs on the line.

The game ended in a bizarre fashion, with defensive end Kroy Biermann sacking Brees from behind and defensive end Osi Umenyiora returning the loose ball 86 yards for a touchdown. On his way to the end zone, Umenyiora turned to wave goodbye, sending the Saints to their fifth consecutive home loss and eliminating them from the playoff picture.

When rookie running back Devonta Freeman dashed 31 yards for a touchdown with 5:42 left in the third quarter, the Falcons extended their lead to 20-7. Wide receiver Julio Jones kept the 86-yard drive alive with catches of 23 and 16 yards.

A critical play in the game came on the next series. Brees moved the Saints to a first down at the Atlanta 14, and he completed a pass near the goal line to tight end Jimmy Graham that would have put the Saints within 20-14.

As Graham pushed his way to the goal line, he was sandwiched by safeties Dezmen Southward and Kemal Ishmael, and Ishmael stripped the ball from his grasp and recovered the fumble. The turnover call was upheld on video review.

Brees did get the Saints within 20-14 with 5:48 left, marching 87 yards on 12 plays before hitting Graham with a 4-yard, back-shoulder throw against Ishmael. Brees completed 8 of 11 passes for 80 yards on the drive.

Trailing by six, the Saints got the ball back at their 10 with 2:40 left. But cornerback Robert McClain undercut Brees’ sideline throw for wide receiver Nick Toon for a decisive interception at the Saints’ 13. Bryant’s third field goal of the game — from 32 yards — iced the game, 23-14, with 1:56 left.

The Saints’ high-powered offense was non-existent in the first half, getting only a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram on New Orleans’ first offensive play upheld that came at the end of a 99-yard, opening kickoff return by rookie Jalen Saunders. Cornerback Javier Arenas wrestled Saunders down just short of the goal line, but Ingram got the touchdown on the next play.

After that, the Falcons controlled the first half, getting field goals of 44 and 50 yards from Bryant and a touchdown with three seconds left in the half on a 3-yard shovel pass from Ryan to wide receiver Eric Weems.

The Falcons outgained the Saints 223-78 in the first half, in large part because their offensive line gave Ryan much more time to throw. Ryan completed 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards as the Falcons kept the pocket clean.

Brees, on the other hand, was constantly harassed by the normally anemic Atlanta pass rush. The Falcons came into the game with just 16 sacks — the lowest total in the NFL — but they sacked Brees three times in the first half for 32 yards in losses.

The touchdown at the end of the half was particularly significant because the Falcons converted four third downs, marching 89 yards in 15 plays. Jones caught a 24-yard pass up the seam to set up Atlanta at the Saints’ 3-yard line.

NOTES: The Saints lost RB Pierre Thomas with a rib injury in the first half. … The Falcons lost three defensive players on one series in the third quarter — S William Moore, CB Josh Wilson and S Dwight Lowery. … The Falcons entered the game with just 16 sacks but sacked QB Drew Brees a season-high four times.

About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business