|Date of game: 11/21/2013
Recap: Atlanta vs. New Orleans
Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Drew Brees passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns as the New Orleans Saints outlasted the Atlanta Falcons, 17-13, on Thursday at Georgia Dome.
Brees completed 23-of-33 passes and eclipsed Warren Moon (49,325) for fifth place on the NFL's all-time passing list in the process. Brees finished the game with 49,564 career yards.
Jimmy Graham grabbed five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown for the Saints (9-2), who have won three straight and sit 1 1/2 games ahead of the Carolina Panthers atop the NFC South.
Atlanta (2-9), on the other hand, has dropped five straight games and owns the worst record in the division despite an efficient effort from Matt Ryan.
Ryan finished 30-of-39 passing for 292 yards, while Steven Jackson racked up 63 yards on 16 carries and scored the Falcons' lone touchdown in the loss.
New Orleans held a 14-13 edge at halftime and neither offense managed much in the third quarter until late in the frame when Graham got the Saints deep into Atlanta territory with a 35-yard pickup on 3rd-and-5.
The Saints failed to pick up another first down, though, and settled for a 41- yard field goal from Garrett Hartley that made it 17-13 with 4:42 left in the quarter.
Ryan scrambled for six yards on 3rd-and-2 from the New Orleans 46 to extend Atlanta's ensuing drive before back-to-back completions moved the team to the 24-yard line.
However, the Falcons turned the ball over two plays later, as defensive end Keyunta Dawson stripped rookie wideout Darius Johnson just after he secured a catch and cornerback Corey White pounced on the loose ball at his own 13-yard line to give possession back to New Orleans.
After forcing the Saints to punt, Atlanta took over at its own 9-yard line before Ryan completed his next five passes to move the Falcons to the New Orleans 37.
Ryan had his string of 12 consecutive completions snapped two plays later before being dropped for a 5-yard loss to leave the Falcons facing 3rd-and-15.
Following another Ryan incompletion with 2:24 to play, Matt Bryant appeared to bury a 52-yard field goal, but the Saints called timeout just before the snap.
Bryant trotted out to try the kick again, but this time his attempt missed wide left to keep the margin at four.
"If we would have gotten some yardage on third down, it opens up your playbook," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said of his decision to try a field goal. "There is not a whole lot of great 4th-and-15 plays."
New Orleans then picked up a pair of first downs on its ensuing touch and forced the Falcons to use all three of their timeouts.
Atlanta eventually got the ball back at its own 38 with five seconds left, but it was too little, too late.
"I thought that it was a real good, hard-fought win," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "I thought both teams played hard. We knew it was going to be a challenge. It is every time we play them."
Early on, the Falcons found the end zone for the only time on their opening possession of the game, with the big play of the drive coming on Jacquizz Rogers' 22-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-3 from the New Orleans 31.
Two plays later, Ryan fired a quick slant to Johnson, who stretched the ball across the goal line for what was originally deemed a touchdown, but video review showed the wideout's knee on the ground just before the tip of the ball broke the plane of the goal line.
Facing 3rd-and-goal from less than a yard out, Jackson surged over the pile on the next play to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 8:51 left in the first.
The Saints responded with a 15-play touchdown trek that featured five third down conversions and ate up over 7 1/2 minutes off the clock.
"We needed to come back," Brees said of responding to Atlanta's touchdown. "We put together a great drive. It was 15 plays. That was a great way to answer."
Brees accounted for four of the five conversions, including the final one that saw the Saints' signal-caller find tight end Benjamin Watson dragging across the back of the end zone for a 1-yard score with 1:23 left in the first.
Bryant knocked down a 39-yard field goal early in the second to give Atlanta a 10-7 lead, but the Saints countered with a quick 5-play sequence to take the lead for good.
Graham notched the go-ahead score, as he beat his defender on an out-and-up down the left sideline and hauled in the pass before carrying a defender into the end zone for a 44-yard TD that made it 14-10 with 10:21 left in the half.
Bryant buried a 24-yard field goal on Atlanta's next touch to bring the Falcons within one.Game Notes
The Saints have won 13 of the last 16 meetings between the teams but trails
46-43 in the all-time series ... Atlanta's losing streak is the team's longest
since a six-game hiccup in 2007 ... Atlanta's Harry Douglas finished with a
team-high nine catches for 79 yards ... Thomas totaled 73 yards on 10 rushes
and 57 yards on five catches ... Atlanta's touchdown on its first series of
the game was the team's first points on an opening drive in its last seven
games ... Ryan was sacked a season-high five times.