Interestingly enough, it was a key play made by one of the NFL's worst statistical defenses that propelled the New Orleans Saints to a 31-27 upset victory over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons. With 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had the ball at the Saints' 2-yad line on fourth and goal. Receiver Roddy White can a crossing route from the right side to the middle of the end zone, and Saints cornerback Jabari Greer broke up the play to end what would otherwise have been Atlanta's go-ahead drive.
"Big win for our football team — we played a heck of a team in Atlanta," interim head coach Joe Vitt said after the game. "I can't say enough about our assistant coaches and the game plan they put in this week."
That play summarized the efforts of a Saints defense that was under siege through most of the season, but looked dominant last Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and did enough to hold on against the Falcons' high-flying offense.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 411 yards on 52 attempts as the Falcons tried to get back into the game and almost took it over with 10 points in the fourth quarter. But when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 31-yard field goal with 5:54 left in the game, that increased New Orleans' margin from one to three, forcing the Falcons to try for a touchdown.
And on their penultimate drive of the game, Atlanta almost did. They went from their own 20-yard line to the Saints' 10 in under four minutes, and seemed to have everything in hand. After a short pass from Ryan to Harry Douglas put the ball at the New Orleans one-yard line, Ryan couldn't connect on a pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner lost a yard, and Greer then saved the game. The Falcons had one more shot after the Saints went three-and-out, but Ryan followed another 9-yard pass to Douglas with three straight incompletions, and that was that.
Gonzalez led all Falcons receivers with 11 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns, which put him over the top as the first tight end with 100 touchdowns in a career, and the eighth player in NFL history to reach that mark. Still, the future Hall-of-Famer was equaled in this game by Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and two scores of his own.
Where the Saints outdid the Falcons in the running game, usually Atlanta's specific strength. The Saints ran for 148 yards on 29 carries, while Atlanta could muster 46 yards on 18 carries.
The win put the Saints at 4-5, while the Falcons start the second half of their season at 8-1. Pending the results of tonight's Texans-Bears game, and whether the 7-1 Bears can emerge victorious, the NFC picture just became quite a bit more interesting.