Interestingly enough, it was a key play made by one of the NFL’s worst statistical defenses that propelled the upset victory over the Falcons, who are now 8-1.
With 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had the ball at the Saints’ 2-yad line on fourth and goal. Receiver Roddy White crossed from the right side to the middle of the end zone, with Saints cornerback Jabari Greer trailing.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who passed for a career-high 411 yards, fired toward White. But the pass was broken up the play to end what would otherwise have been Atlanta’s go-ahead drive and turned the ball over to the Saints.
That play summarized the efforts of a Saints defense that was under siege through most of the season, but looked dominant last Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and did enough to hold on against the Falcons’ high-flying offense.
But when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 31-yard field goal with 5:54 left in the game, that increased New Orleans’ margin from one to four, forcing the Falcons to try for a touchdown, which they did not get in their last two possessions.
Tony Gonzalez led all Falcons receivers with 11 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns, which put him over the top as the first tight end with 100 touchdowns in a career, and the eighth player in NFL history to reach that mark. Still, the future Hall-of-Famer was equaled in this game by Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and two scores of his own.
Where the Saints outdid the Falcons in the running game, usually Atlanta’s specific strength. The Saints ran for 148 yards on 29 carries, while Atlanta could muster 46 yards on 18 carries.