Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints’ defense took care of business with a 17-13 road win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, setting up a giant showdown next week with the NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks.
Brees, New Orleans’ quarterback, threw two touchdown passes, including a 44-yard strike to tight end Graham in the second quarter, leading the Saints to their sixth victory in their last seven meetings with the Falcons. Graham finished with five catches for 100 yards and his 10th touchdown of the season.
The Saints (9-2) head to Seattle to face the Seahawks (10-1) in a game that could end up determining the top seed in the NFC playoffs. New Orleans leads the Carolina Panthers (7-3) by 1 1/2 games in the NFC South. The division rivals will square off twice in December.
Atlanta (2-9) lost its fifth consecutive game and was mathematically eliminated from the NFC South race.
The improved New Orleans defense kept Atlanta out of the end zone the final three quarters and ended quarterback Matt Ryan’s 16-game streak with at least one touchdown pass. The Saints sacked Ryan five times.
Still, Atlanta was down only four and driving at the start of the fourth quarter. Saints linebacker Keyunta Dawson stripped Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson, and cornerback Corey White recovered the fumble inside the Saints 20-yard line to thwart Atlanta’s best scoring chance of the second half.
The Falcons’ defense also played well, holding the Saints to three points in the second half, but the offense couldn’t deliver a go-ahead score.
Ryan completed 30 of 39 passes for 297 yards.
Brees finished 23 of 33 for 278 yards and orchestrated a balanced attack that gained 103 yards on the ground.
The Falcons got off to a fast start, forcing a three-and-out on New Orleans’ first series and scoring on their opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Steven Jackson. It was Jackson’s first rushing touchdown of the season, a revealing stat for the league’s 31st-ranked rushing offense.
The Saints answered with Brees touchdown passes on their next two drives. He found tight end Ben Watson in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown on third-and-goal and then connected with Graham for a 44-yard score that helped the Saints take a 14-13 lead into halftime.