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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