It's official. The Saints (4-5) are back. They still have a ways to go to earn a playoff spot after starting 0-4, but Sunday's 31-27 win over previously undefeated Atlanta (8-1) at the Superdome was their fourth victory in five games and a clear indication they will be a factor down the stretch.
After New Orleans fell behind 10-0 early in the first quarter, RB Chris Ivory sparked the comeback with a highlight-reel 56-yard TD run. The Saints went ahead 28-17 in the third quarter –- the first double-digit deficit the Falcons had faced all year -- and held on thanks to a terrific goal-line stand after the 2-minute warning.
Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matt Ryan canceled each other out with their brilliance, but the difference was the Saints' ability to run and stop the run. New Orleans rushed for 148 yards on 29 carries (5.1 average) while holding Atlanta to 46 yards on 18 attempts.
When the game turned: After trailing 28-17 in the second half, the Falcons had a chance to take the lead with two minutes left, facing second-and-goal at the 1. But safety Malcolm Jenkins broke up a pass for Tony Gonzales on second down, the Saints stuffed Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down and CB Jabari Greer broke up a pass over the middle for Roddy White on fourth down, preserving the 31-27 lead. Although New Orleans still had to survive one more Falcons possession, the key was stopping the Falcons after they were 1 yard away from going ahead.
Highlight moments: Chris Ivory's 56-yard TD run in the first quarter was one of the best in Saints history. He turned the corner after a hesitation move, cut back, broke a tackle and used a devastating stiff arm on his way to the end zone. … Ryan threw a picture-perfect deep ball down the sideline to White for 49 yards to the New Orleans 1, setting up a TD on Atlanta's first series. … Greer, who had been burned for two deep throws, saved his best for last, knocking down the fourth-and-goal pass to White in the final two minutes.
- Brees -- 21 of 32 for 298 yards with three TDs and one interception.
- Ryan -- 34 of 52 for a career-high 411 yards with three TDs and one interception.
- Saints TE Jimmy Graham -– 7 catches, a career-high 146 yards, two TDs.
- Gonzalez -- 11 catches, 122 yards, two TDs.
What they said:
- Brees on the Saints winning four of their last five -- "I still don't believe we've played our best football. I truly believe our best is yet to come."
- Saints WR Lance Moore on Ivory's TD run -- "It was sweet. It was sweet. It should be a top 10 SportsCenter play of the day."
- Saints DE Will Smith on White saying earlier in the week the Falcons had the pedigree to go 16-0 -- "Any time you start talking about the record midway through the season, you create a distraction for your own team. I was giving him a little advice to worry about one game at a time instead of worrying about 16-0, or as the fans said, 19-0."
- Atlanta coach Mike Smith on the Saints' goal-line stand -- "It's very frustrating. Whether it's one yard or 10 yards, when you don't win it's frustrating."
Woulda, Quddus, shoulda: With Atlanta 62 yards away from the end zone with 24 seconds left, Saints safety Isa Abdul-Quddus let White get behind him twice on the same play. White beat him initially and was open for what could have been a TD, but Ryan did not see him right away. When Ryan finally launched the ball, Quddus inexplicably stopped and watched it sail over his head. Luckily for him, White stumbled and did not judge it right as it fell to the turf.
Numbers you should know: The tight ends, Graham and Gonzalez combined for 18 catches 268 yards and four TDs. … Gonzalez became the eighth player in NFL history to make 100 career TD receptions, joining Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown and Steve Largent. … Saints WR Marques Colston had his 55th TD, tying Deuce McAllister for the franchise record. … Falcons coach Mike Smith is 2-7 vs. the Saints and 49-15 vs. the rest of the league in the regular season.
Injury updates: Atlanta WR Julio Jones left with a leg injury in the first half but returned in the third quarter. … Saints CB Corey White left with a left leg injury in the third quarter and did not return. Interim coach Joe Vitt said he did not know the extent of the injury.
Going forward: The Saints make their only west coast trip of the season to play Oakland with a chance to get to .500 for the first time. The Raiders gave up 55 points in an embarrassing loss to Baltimore. Atlanta still has a three-game lead in the NFC South (over Tampa Bay) and returns home to face Arizona.
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSaints.
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.