New Orleans hasn't done much right on defense this season, but they stopped Atlanta twice in the final few minutes of Sunday's game to shock the previously unbeaten Falcons, 31-27.
Trailing by four, 31-27, Matt Ryan led the Falcons down to the New Orleans 1- yard line with two minutes to play. The Saints, however, did not break as they held strong over the next four plays to keep Atlanta out of the end zone.
The Saints were unable to run the rest of the clock out. Thus, the Falcons took over at their own 31 with 37 seconds to go. Atlanta picked up nine yards on first down. Once again, New Orleans stepped it up on defense to preserve the victory.
"Big win for our football team -- we played a heck of a team in Atlanta," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "I can't say enough about our assistant coaches and the gameplan they put in this week."
Drew Brees completed 21-of-32 passes for 298 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Saints (4-5), who have won two in a row.
Chris Ivory carried the ball seven times for 72 yards and a score, Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Marques Colston hauled in three passes for 26 yards and a score. Colston now has 55 career touchdowns -- tying him with Deuce McAllister for the most in Saints history.
Ryan connected on 24-of-52 passes for 411 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Falcons (8-1), who fell to 29-1 when the Boston College product hits the century mark in passer rating.
Tony Gonzalez caught 11 passes for 122 yards and two scores. The veteran tight end now has 101 career TD catches.
"I felt like this was a very hard-fought football game in terms of the effort," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We made way too many mistakes in all three phases."
The Falcons got the ball to start the game and put together a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive. After making an 11-yard reception on 3rd-and-10, Roddy White hauled in a 49-yard pass along the right sideline. Ryan then threw a 1-yard TD pass to offensive lineman Mike Johnson.
New Orleans' first offensive series did not go according to plan. On the first play, Asante Samuel made a diving interception. Atlanta started at the 27 of the Saints following Samuel's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Matt Bryant made a 37-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 9:19 remaining.
The scoring continued on the ensuing possession. Ivory juked and weaved through Atlanta's defense en route to a 56-yard touchdown.
The Saints started at their own 10-yard line following a punt from the Falcons. New Orleans used a mix of run and pass plays to move the ball to the Atlanta 29-yard line. From there, Brees hooked up with Graham to extend his NFL record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 52. The score gave the home team a 14-10 lead with 13:33 left until half.
But the Falcons responded with an impressive 14-play, 80-yard drive. Gonzalez made four catches during the march, including a 2-yard TD catch.
The back-and-forth battle continued as the Saints took the lead back with 34 seconds to go. Graham caught passes of 18 and 15 yards before catching a 14- yard TD pass, making it a 21-17 contest.
New Orleans carried the momentum into the second half. Corey White picked off Ryan at the 19 of the Saints. Lance Moore made a one-handed catch for a gain of 29 yards, which helped set up a Colston touchdown. Colston caught the ball at the 2-yard line, fought off a defender and stretched the ball across the goal line.
Atlanta bridged the third and fourth periods with an 11-play, 91-yard drive. Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers caught passes of 23 and 15 yards, respectively to move the ball to the New Orleans six. Ryan followed with a perfect pass to Gonzalez in the middle of the end zone.
Following a punt from the Saints, Julio Jones caught a 52-yard pass along the right sideline. The Falcons got to the 2-yard line before settling for a 20- yard Bryant field goal, which cut the gap to 28-27 with 9:08 to go.
Garrett Hartley responded with a 31-yard field goal to make it 31-27. Graham caught a 46-yard pass down the left sideline to help set up the field goal.
Atlanta started its ensuing drive from its own 20 with less than six minutes to go. Rodgers caught a 14-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 for a fresh set of downs. Gonzalez added a 17-yard catch later in the drive to move the ball to the New Orleans 28. Rodgers' 18-yard run and Douglas' 9-yard catch moved the ball to the one with two minutes to play.
The Falcons lead the all-time series between the two clubs 45-41, but the Saints have taken 11 of the past 13 ... Brees is 11-2 against the Falcons since joining the Saints in 2006 ... New Orleans has won 13 straight games in the month of November ... White caught seven passes for 114 yards ... Ryan had a passer rating of 100.7.