Saints keep slim playoff hopes alive with 21-18 victory over Falcons
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Saints kept their slim playoff hopes alive Sunday (Dec. 18) with a 21-18 victory over the archrival Atlanta Falcons at Caesars Superdome.
Snapping a two-game losing streak, the Saints (5-9) dealt the Falcons (5-9) their third consecutive loss. Division-leading Tampa Bay (6-8) and Carolina (5-9) also lost Sunday, creating a three-way tie for second place in the lackluster NFC South, where no team has a winning record.
Quarterback Andy Dalton passed for two touchdowns and Taysom Hill one, as New Orleans jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never trailed in the contest. Tight end Juwan Johnson caught two of the scoring passes, giving him five touchdown receptions in the past five games. Undrafted rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed had the other TD grab for the Saints.
The Falcons gave rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder his first NFL start. Ridder completed 13 of 26 passes for just 97 yards and was sacked four times.
Atlanta rallied in the second half to cut its deficit to 21-18 in the fourth quarter. Ridder had the Falcons driving for a potential game-tying or lead-changing score inside the final three minutes. On fourth-and-five from the 50-yard line, Ridder hit fellow rookie Drake London for a 12-yard completion. But the Saints’ Justin Evans knocked the ball from London’s grasp and the fumble was recovered by Bradley Roby. The Saints’ first takeaway of the game essentially sealed Atlanta’s fate.
New Orleans took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a pair of TD passes. Dalton hit Johnson down the middle for a 19-yard score with 10:06 left in the quarter. About two minutes later, Hill connected with Shaheed for a 68-yard touchdown pass with 8:17 left in the period. The latter was the Saints’ longest play from scrimmage this season.
Atlanta cut the lead to 14-3 on a 28-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo with 11:15 left in the second quarter.
Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for 139 yards on 17 carries, scored from 5 yards out to bring Atlanta within 14-10 with 10:46 left in the third quarter. But Dalton found Johnson on a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the Saints back up 21-10 with 3:34 to play in the third.
Atlanta drew within three points midway through the fourth quarter, when Cordarrelle Patterson scored from 3 yards out and Allgeier punched in a two-point conversion run. The Saints led 21-18 with 7:07 to play, and the Falcons’ late turnover prevented them from getting any closer.
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