NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes and Jabari Greer broke up a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with 1:42 left to lift the New Orleans Saints to a 31-27 victory Sunday over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints, who won their fourth game in five weeks after an 0-4 start, led 28-17 following Brees' 7-yard strike to Marques Colston, but the Falcons (8-1) closed to within 28-27 with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter with 10 straight points.
Ryan found Gonzalez behind safety Roman Harper for a 6-yard touchdown, capping an 11-play, 91-yard drive. Then after a quick Saints' punt, Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 52-yard connection to set up Matt Bryant's 20-yard field goal.
The Saints extended the lead to 31-27 on Garrett Hartley's 31-yard field goal with 5:54 left, but that gave Ryan plenty of time to work his heroics. Starting from his 20, Ryan completed two big third-down plays to keep the drive going, and Jacquizz Rodgers raced 18 yards to the Saints' 10.
But the Falcons couldn't get any closer than the Saints' 1. On first down, Harry Douglas caught a pass and was spun down at the 1. Malcolm Jenkins broke up a second-down pass for Tony Gonzalez in the end zone, and Will Smith trapped Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down.
On fourth down, Greer broke in front of Roddy White in the back of the end zone, preserving the victory. The Falcons got the ball back one more time -- at their 31 with 37 seconds left -- but they could only gain nine yards in four plays.
The game couldn't have started any better for the Falcons. Ryan took them 80 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead, the payoff coming on a 1-yard pass on a tackle eligible play to left tackle Mike Johnson.
Then, on Brees' first play from scrimmage, Asante Samuel made a diving interception on a ball thrown wide to Colston, and the Falcons had a first down at the Saints' 27. The Falcons had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, giving them a 10-0 lead.
Brees led the Saints to touchdowns on their next two possessions. Brees was helped mightily by the Saints' revived rushing attack. Chris Ivory took a pitch around right end for a 56-yard score, outrunning John Abraham and Samuel to the corner and then cutting back across the field to stiff-arm Dunta Robinson at the Atlanta 15 to get into the end zone.
On the Saints' next possession, Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham alone in the seam for a 29-yard score, putting the Saints up 14-10. Brees was 8-of-8 for 80 yards on the 90-yard drive.
Ryan, who was 16-of-20 for 180 yards in the first half, regained the lead, 17-14, with a 2-yard flip to tight end Tony Gonzalez, the 100th career touchdown reception for Gonzalez.
Brees found Graham again from 14 yards out with 34 seconds left in the half to give the Saints a 21-17 lead.
Notes: Gonzalez's 100th scoring catch tied him with Jim Brown and Steve Largent for most NFL career touchdowns. No tight end in NFL history has caught more TD passes than Gonzalez. ... Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones went down late in the first quarter with a right shin injury but returned. ... Falcons cornerback Robert McClain was sidelined with a neck injury.