Saints hand Falcons first loss
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons came up just short in their bid to stay unbeaten.
Not that White was about to give the rival Saints too much credit after New Orleans pulled out a dramatic 31-27 upset of previously unbeaten Atlanta on Sunday.
“It’s not like they came out here and won a game,” White said. “I think we kind of gave it to them. ... We play them in three weeks and we’ll be ready.”
White’s comments weren’t the only potential bulletin board material for the rematch on Nov. 29 in Atlanta.
Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, who left the Falcons after last season in free agency, dismissed the notion that New Orleans and Atlanta had a genuine “rivalry” because the Saints have won 11 of the past 13 meetings.
“The team out on the field today was the reason why I came to the Saints,” said Lofton, who joined New Orleans only to see his former team get off to its best start in franchise history. “We’re finally starting to come together.”
While the Saints (4-5) were celebrating their fourth victory in five games after a 0-4 start, the Falcons (8-1) walked out of the Superdome ruing their failure to get the 1 yard they needed to take a lead inside the last 2 minutes.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith, who is 2-7 against the Saints and 49-15 against the rest of the NFL in his four-plus regular seasons as Atlanta coach.
“We were close. ... This will be something we will learn from.”
The Falcons struggled to cover dynamic young tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for a career-best 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Then veteran New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer, who had been beaten deep twice earlier in the game, came through with a diving, touchdown-saving pass breakup on a late fourth-down pass intended for White.
“I was kind of depressed before that play,” Greer said. “I saw my name on the waiver wire. ... Being able to go out there and make a play for our team and be able to celebrate after everything that happened and just to win that way, it’s a gift.”
Matt Ryan was 34 of 52 for a career-best 411 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The game was there for him to win when his 9-yard pass to Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a second-and-goal at the 1.
But Ryan could not connect on a second-down pass for tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Saints stuffed Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down, and then came Greer’s play.
“I could have put that ball in a better spot — a little higher and more in front of him to give him a chance to catch it,” Ryan said. “We’ve always played them tough and haven’t had the outcomes we wanted.”
Both Graham and the veteran Gonzalez were superb. Their performances marked the first time in NFL history that two tight ends had at least 120 yards receiving and two TD catches in the same game.
“Tony, he kind of paved the way for me,” said Graham, who like Gonzalez had a college basketball background. “It seemed like every drive I’m kind of going up against the things that he did the last drive.”
Gonzalez finished with 11 catches for 122 yards and two scores for Atlanta, becoming the first tight end to catch 100 touchdown passes.
Drew Brees threw for 298 yards and three TDs as the Saints won for the fourth time in five games, keeping alive hope of getting back into the wild-card race after a 0-4 start. The Saints can even their record with a win at Oakland next weekend.
“That’s something we feel like we’re capable of and we envisioned being able to do that, because we know the type of team we have,” Brees said. “We knew we dug ourselves a hole. We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we also knew we have the right type of people.”
“No one is going to go around crying or panicking or anything like that,” Gonzalez said. “We’re a good team. Our confidence hasn’t changed.”
Although the Saints came in allowing a league-worst 176.5 yards rushing per game, they held Atlanta to 46 yards on the ground.
New Orleans rushed for 148 yards, highlighted by Chris Ivory’s career-long 56-yard scoring run that gave the Saints a spark after Atlanta had a 10-0 lead.
The Saints’ largest lead was 28-17 on Brees’ scoring strike to Marques Colston, the 55th TD of Colston’s career, tying Deuce McAllister for first in Saints history. The touchdown capped an 81-yard drive which started with rookie Corey White’s interception.
The Falcons pulled to 28-27 on Gonzalez’s second TD and Matt Bryant’s field goal, but Graham’ 46-yard grab set up Garrett Hartley’s field goal that gave the Saints a late four-point lead and set the stage for a tense last few minutes.
Notes: Ivory’s 56-yard run was the longest from scrimmage by a Saint since Oct. 8, 2006, when McAllister ran 57 yards vs. Tampa Bay. ... Brees has passed for touchdowns in 52 straight games, extending an NFL record he set earlier this season. ... Julio Jones missed much of the first half after an undisclosed leg injury, but returned in the second half. ... Gonzalez has 101 career TDs, one of only eight players with 100 or more.