Sports

Saints win Southern slugfest

ATLANTA — After tossing up two throws in the fourth quarter that he wishes never left his hand, Drew Brees connected on the one that really counted for the New Orleans Saints.

Brees shook off a pair of interceptions in the final period, hooking up with rookie Jimmy Graham on a 6-yard touchdown with 3:24 remaining to give New Orleans a 17-14 victory over the Atlanta on Monday night. Brees and the Saints denied the Falcons from clinching the NFC South title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

And Who Dat going back to the playoffs? That would be the Saints, who showed they aren’t ready to give up their Super Bowl title with a win that should give them a huge boost of confidence heading into the postseason.

The Falcons (12-3), meanwhile, might be having some doubts after their eight-game winning streak was snapped at the Georgia Dome, where they have been virtually unbeatable in Mike Smith’s three years as coach.

Still, the loss doesn’t ruin Atlanta’s two main goals. The Falcons can still wrap up their first division crown since 2004 and home field through the NFC playoffs by knocking off two-win Carolina at home in the final week of the season.

But this one stung, especially since there’s a real possibility these teams will meet again in the playoffs.

“It feels good,” Brees said. “You just want to punch your ticket to the big show, and we’ve done that. Obviously Carolina needs to beat Atlanta next week so we can get that one seed.”

Brees completed six straight passes on a 13-play, 90-yard drive, the last one to the rookie tight end for the winning score. That made up for Brees’ ill-advised attempt to flip a backhanded pass to escape heavy pressure, but instead the throw was picked off by Chauncey Davis and returned 26 yards for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth — giving the Falcons their first lead all night.

Matt Ryan connected with Roddy White on a 7-yard touchdown pass that made it 10-7 at halftime, but Atlanta squandered another chance when Michael Turner fumbled the ball away on second-and-goal at the New Orleans 1. It was Turner’s first fumble of the season.

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