(The Sports Xchange) – Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a Drew Brees pass in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining to preserve the NFC South champion Falcons’ 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.
Matt Bryant provided the winning margin on a 52-yard field goal with just under four minutes on the clock as the Falcons (8-5) stayed in with a chance of defending their divisional crown by moving within a game of the Saints (9-4).
After Jones’ interception, the Falcons were able to run out the clock with the help of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Saints coach Sean Payton.
The Falcons won despite three interceptions by Matt Ryan, who finished 15-of-27 for 221 yards and a touchdown. Brees completed 26-of-35 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns but threw the costly interception.
Brees had to carry more of the load for the Saints after versatile rookie running back Alvin Kamara sustained a concussion on the game’s first series.
The Falcons forced a tie with just under 10 minutes left on an eight-yard pass from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu. The play capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive that took more than seven minutes.
Ryan, who was picked off by Marshon Lattimore at the end of the first half had his first pass in the second intercepted by Chris Banjo. The Saints cashed the turnover in on a one-yard scoring pass from Brees to Michael Thomas for a 17-10 lead.
Then Ryan was picked off for the third time in four throws when Marcus Williams grabbed a pass that should not have been thrown in the end zone with Julio Jones well covered.
The first half ended in a 10-10 tie when a 47-yard field goal by Wil Lutz was nullified by an illegal formation and the Saints did not get another play with time expired.
Earlier in the second quarter, the Falcons consumed more than eight minutes in going 90 yards in 15 plays, with Devonta Freeman scoring from the one-yard line, to go ahead.
The Saints answered quickly, though, as Brees connected with Tommylee Lewis for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Saints lost Kamara on the game’s opening drive, which ended with a 34-yard field goal by Lutz that was matched by a 28-yard field goal by Bryant.
Kamara, who came in with 1,220 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns, was hurt on a helmet-to-helmet hit by linebacker De’Vondre Campbell while being dropped for a four-yard loss on a pass from Brees.
Kamara, a third-round draft pick from Tennessee who grew up outside Atlanta, had three catches for 25 yards and one rush for two yards before being hurt.