Saints slip past Falcons; Mike Smith’s odd late-game decision fails in team’s ninth loss

The New Orleans Saints were mostly hemmed in offensively, save for great performances from Pierre Thomas and Jimmy Graham, but were able to outlast the Atlanta Falcons, 17-13 on Thursday.

Graham was uncoverable, scoring on a 44-yard catch and run, dunking the football over the goalpost the score, and Thomas was a menace as a runner and a receiver. Brees had an efficient game, and he passed Warren Moon for fifth all time in passing yards in NFL history.

But the Falcons hung in there with a game defense, tough running from Steven Jackson and some clutch catches from Harry Douglas and Darius Johnson that kept the score close. But Johnson lost a second-half fumble, and Falcons head coach Mike Smith might have fumbled away the game with an odd coaching decision.

Faced with a 3rd-and-15 at the Saints' 34-yard line and 2:28 remaining, the Falcons failed to complete a pass and opted to attempt a 52-yard field goal instead of go for it, or punt. With three timeouts and the two-minute warning left to stop the clock, Smith felt his best chance was the kick. After Saints head coach Sean Payton called out — wiping out the would-be good field goal — Matt Bryant's second attempt, which counted, went wide left.

The Saints were able to drain the clock and win, save for a last-ditch Matt Ryan pass that went nowhere.

The Falcons fell to 2-9, extending their miserable season. The Saints raised their mark to 9-2, setting up a giant contest against the Seattle Seahawks to cap off Week 13 — one that could determine home-field advantage in the NFC.

They'll have to be more efficient in that game, but this was yet another close game in a bitter rivalry. It came down to Graham once again being too tough to defend for the Falcons, plus their inability to pass protect for Ryan, who was sacked five times.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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