for this game

Saints nip Falcons, gain playoff berth

Dec 28, 2010 - 7:33 AM Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Drew Brees threw a six-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jimmy Graham with 3:24 remaining, as the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints secured a spot in the postseason with a 17-14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Brees completed 35-of-49 passes for 302 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for the Saints (11-4), who bounced back from a 30-24 loss to the Ravens last week and avenged an overtime loss to Atlanta in Week 3.

New Orleans kept its hopes alive of claiming a second straight NFC South title. If the Saints beat Tampa Bay next week and the Falcons lose to Carolina, New Orleans wins the division.

Pierre Thomas carried the ball 19 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 39 yards. Robert Meachem led the receiving corps with 10 catches for 101 yards.

"Obviously it was a hard-fought game," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "The reason this is a tough team to play in the Dome is because they're really a tough football team. It went back and forth which we though it would with the momentum swings. We were fortunate to overcome the turnovers and still come up with enough points to win the game."

Matt Ryan connected on 15-of-29 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons (12-3), who saw an eight-game winning streak come to an end. Atlanta, which has already wrapped up a playoff spot, can still gain the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win next week.

Michael Turner carried the ball 17 times for 48 yards. Roddy White hauled in three passes for 43 yards and a score.

Trailing by three, 10-7, early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons' defense stepped up in a big way. On the second play of the period, Jonathan Babineaux brought pressure up the middle. Brees tried to flip the ball into the flat, but defensive end Chauncey Davis intercepted the football and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. That score gave the Falcons a 14-10 lead with 14:14 to go.

Brees had New Orleans in Atlanta territory on the ensuing possession. The result was very similar, however, as defensive end John Abraham intercepted Brees near midfield.

The Falcons got one first down before punting the football away. The Saints took over at their own 10 with 10:35 to play. New Orleans quickly faced a third-down situation, but Brees calmly threw an 18-yard pass to Lance Moore to keep the drive going.

The visitors got into Atlanta territory before facing another third down. On 3rd-and-2 from the 38, Meachem caught a three-yard pass for a fresh set of downs. On the next play, Brees rolled to his right and threw a pass to Thomas, who ran for 22 yards to the 13-yard line. Graham capped the impressive 13-play march with a six-yard TD catch to give the Saints a 17-14 edge with 3:24 left.

The Falcons got the ball to their own 43 before punting the ball back to New Orleans with 2:44 remaining. Graham caught a seven-yard pass on first down before fumbling the football. But replay clearly showed that he was down before losing the ball and the call was overturned.

Thomas ran for four yards and a fresh set of downs before the two-minute warning, then carried the ball for two yards prior to Atlanta's second timeout of the half. A seven-yard catch by Thomas set up a 3rd-and-inches. The Falcons wasted their final timeout before Thomas sealed the win with a three-yard run.

"It was a disappointing loss," Ryan said. "I felt that we had opportunities to make some plays tonight and we didn't take advantage of that. You know it's frustrating but we got to bounce back and get ready for Carolina next week and everything that we wanted at the beginning of the season is in front of us and we need to respond."

Each team struggled on offense in the early going, as four of the first five possessions resulted in three-and-outs.

New Orleans finally got on the board late in the first quarter. Moore's 16- yard catch highlighted an eight-play drive, which Garrett Hartley capped with a 52-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining.

On the third play of the second stanza, Atlanta messed up the snap. Center Todd McClure failed to get the ball off the ground with Ryan in the shotgun. Jonathan Vilma of the Saints jumped on the football at the 34-yard line of the Falcons.

Graham's 10-yard catch on third down was followed up by Thomas' 16-yard run. That put the ball at the two-yard line, and Thomas rumbled up the middle for a 10-0 New Orleans margin with 11:18 left.

Atlanta, though, responded with a touchdown of its own. Faced with a 3rd- and-11 from the New Orleans 45, Ryan completed a 19-yard pass to Jason Snelling. White capped the eight-play drive with a seven-yard TD catch to make it 10-7 with 7:28 remaining. The rest of the half was scoreless.

The Falcons got the ball to start the second half. Consecutive defensive interference penalties on Tracy Porter gave Atlanta the ball at the one-yard line. Turner was stuffed on first down before fumbling the football. Marvin Mitchell fell on the ball for New Orleans.

Game Notes

Atlanta leads the all-time regular-season series with New Orleans by a 45-38 count and snapped a string of three straight defeats to the Saints with the above-mentioned overtime win at the Superdome in Week 3...New Orleans running back Chris Ivory and linebacker Danny Clark both missed the game with hamstring injuries...The Falcons' eight-game surge was their longest win streak since ripping off nine straight victories to close out the regular season in 1998, the same year the franchise made its only Super Bowl appearance to date...Atlanta had won 15 straight times at the Georgia Dome in which Ryan had started. Ryan fell to 19-2 at home over his three-year career...Moore caught four passes for 48 yards...Michael Jenkins hauled in five passes for 40 yards for the Falcons.