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Defense propels Saints past Falcons, into playoffs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Whether it was the weirdest interception of Marshon Lattimore's football life or a ball-dislodging hit by Tyeler Davison near the goal line, the Saints' defense poetically tipped the scales in a long-awaited playoff-clinching victory.

Shoddy defense was widely seen as the reason the Saints missed the playoffs the last three seasons. Those days are over.

Lattimore corralled a momentum turning interception off his backside, New Orleans made two defensive stands from inside its 2-yard line, and the Saints clinched their first postseason berth since 2013 with a 23-13 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

''We want the team to win because of the defense, not in spite of the defense, and I feel like we've all kind of hung our hat on that,'' Davison said. ''We saw it in our mind and we turned it into real life, man, and it feels amazing. It feels just as you thought it would when you pictured it 100 times.''

Ted Ginn caught a 54-yard pass for a touchdown, which came a few plays after Lattimore's interception and shortly before halftime. Mark Ingram used a sharp cutback to break loose for a 26-yard touchdown for New Orleans ( 11-4), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season.

While the loss eliminated the Falcons (9-6) from the NFC South race, Atlanta can clinch a wild-card berth by beating Carolina in the final regular-season game.

The Falcons entered the game with a second straight division crown within reach, but they needed to beat the Saints. They squandered chances spectacularly, much to the delight of a deafening Superdome crowd - and certainly to the chagrin of scattered fans wearing Falcons red. The Falcons were taunted on their way to the game by a plane towing a banner that read ''28-3 Merry Xmas,'' a reference to Atlanta's Super Bowl collapse.

Atlanta trailed 6-0 when Lattimore's interception of Matt Ryan set the Saints up to double their lead.

Early in the third quarter, Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a pass that deflected off Ginn's hands and returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 2. But Devonta Freeman fumbled on a hit by Davison two plays later and linebacker Manti Teo recovered.

''That was my fault,'' Freeman said. ''No matter what play is called, you've got to get in the end zone and score, and I've got to protect the ball. I've got to do better at that. I'm going to do whatever it takes to fix it.''

Early in the fourth quarter, Freeman was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1, preserving a 20-3 Saints lead. One play earlier, Julio Jones caught a third-down pass with his feet in the end zone, but he was unable to pull the ball across the goal line after reaching back to make the catch. Atlanta challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld.

''That's kind of the tale of the day,'' Ryan said. ''We can't do that in these type of games and we missed too many opportunities.''

FORTUITOUS PICK

Lattimore, drafted 11th overall last spring out of Ohio State, said he'd never had a more unusual interception at any level of football. Lattimore had been beaten on the play and launched into a desperate dive as Ryan's high pass deflected off the hands of receiver Marvin Hall and fell on Lattimore as he lay face down.

He curled his leg up on the ball to try to prevent it from touching the ground, reached back with his right hand to swipe it from players from both teams who grasped at it.

''I felt the ball on the back of my leg. I knew it didn't touch the ground because everybody was trying to fight for it,'' Lattimore said . ''I just went back and reached for it and got it.''

FINAL NUMBERS

Drew Brees completed 21 of 28 passes for 239 yards. Ginn finished with 76 yards receiving and Michael Thomas - who'd been listed as questionable with a hamstring injury - caught four passes for 66 yards. Brees became the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 70,000 career yards passing, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Ryan was 22 of 36 for 288 yards. He was sacked five times, twice by Cameron Jordan.

Jones had seven catches for 149 yards, but the Falcons' running game struggled.

Freeman was held to 36 yards on 11 carries.

INJURY REPORT

Falcons: Tight end Levine Toilolo was sidelined by a knee injury in the second half.

Saints: Left tackle Terron Armstead left the game in the second half with a thigh injury.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Finish regular season at home against the Panthers.

Saints: Try to wrap up the division title at Tampa Bay on New Year's Eve.

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Copyright 2017 by AP. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of AP is strictly prohibited.

Key Players
M. Ryan 2 QB
288 PaYds, PaTD, INT, 7 RuYds
15
FPTS
T. Ginn 19 WR
76 ReYds, ReTD, 4 RECs, 14 RuYds
14
FPTS
Scoring Summary
4th Quarter
No scoring this quarter
Point After TD 2:40
M.Bryant extra point is GOOD, Center-J.Harris, Holder-M.Bosher.
plays
yds
pos
13
23
Touchdown 2:40
M.Ryan pass short left to T.Coleman for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass 6, YAC 8
8
plays
75
yds
0:58
pos
12
23
Field Goal 3:38
W.Lutz 45 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-Z.Wood, Holder-T.Morstead.
4
plays
6
yds
0:22
pos
6
23
Field Goal 10:18
M.Bryant 48 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-J.Harris, Holder-M.Bosher.
5
plays
18
yds
1:06
pos
6
20
3rd Quarter
No scoring this quarter
Point After TD 2:52
W.Lutz extra point is GOOD, Center-Z.Wood, Holder-T.Morstead.
plays
yds
pos
3
20
Touchdown 2:52
M.Ingram left guard for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
4
plays
54
yds
2:01
pos
3
19
Field Goal 9:34
M.Bryant 37 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-J.Harris, Holder-M.Bosher.
7
plays
29
yds
2:23
pos
3
13
2nd Quarter
No scoring this quarter
Point After TD 0:14
W.Lutz extra point is GOOD, Center-Z.Wood, Holder-T.Morstead.
plays
yds
pos
0
13
Touchdown 0:14
D.Brees pass deep right to T.Ginn for 54 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass 30, YAC 24
3
plays
64
yds
0:36
pos
0
12
Field Goal 1:19
W.Lutz 29 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-Z.Wood, Holder-T.Morstead.
16
plays
68
yds
8:21
pos
0
6
1st Quarter
No scoring this quarter
Field Goal 7:31
W.Lutz 40 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-Z.Wood, Holder-T.Morstead.
8
plays
40
yds
4:04
pos
0
3
Team Stats
Time of Pos 26:12 33:48
1st Downs 15 15
Rushing 4 5
Passing 11 9
Penalty 0 1
3rd Down Conv 2-13 3-13
4th Down Conv 1-2 1-1
Total Net Yards 331 315
Total Plays 61 60
Avg Gain 5.4 5.3
Net Yards Rushing 67 86
Rush Attempts 20 31
Avg Rush Yards 3.4 2.8
Net Yards Passing 264 229
Comp. - Att. 22-36 21-28
Yards Per Pass 7.3 8.2
Sacked - Yards Lost 5-24 1-10
Penalties - Yards 10-91 3-30
Touchdowns 1 2
Rushing TDs 0 1
Passing TDs 1 1
Other 0 0
Turnovers 2 1
Fumbles - Lost 1-1 1-0
Int. Thrown 1 1
Punts - Avg 5-46.8 6-44.7
Return Yards 115 115
Punts - Returns 3-29 4-43
Kickoffs - Returns 2-45 2-72
Int. - Returns 1-41 1-0
Kicking 3/3 5/5
Extra Points 1/1 2/2
Field Goals 2/2 3/3
Red Zone Eff. 1-4 -25% 0-2 -0%
Goal to Go Eff. 0-2 -0% 0-0 -0%
Safeties 0 0
1234T
Falcons 9-6 0031013
Saints 11-4 3107323
264 PASS YDS 229
67 RUSH YDS 86
331 TOTAL YDS 315
Passing CP/ATT YDS TD INT FPTS
M. Ryan 2 QB
15
FPTS
IN-GAME COMP% YDS TD INT RTG
61.1% 288 1 1 84.0
SEASON COMP% YDS TD INT RTG
64.9% 3778 19 12 91.4
M. Ryan 22/36 288 1 1 15
Rushing ATT YDS TD LG FPTS
D. Freeman 24 RB
3
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
11 36 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
185 842 7
D. Freeman 11 36 0 15 3
T. Coleman 26 RB
11
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
6 12 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
145 605 5
T. Coleman 6 12 0 15 11
T. Gabriel 18 WR
3
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
1 12 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
8 49 0
T. Gabriel 1 12 0 12 3
M. Ryan 2 QB
15
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
2 7 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
29 129 0
M. Ryan 2 7 0 8 15
Receiving TAR REC YDS TD LG FPTS
J. Jones 11 WR
14
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
11 7 149 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 83 1364 3
J. Jones 11 7 149 0 44 14
T. Coleman 26 RB
11
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
4 4 40 1
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 25 285 3
T. Coleman 4 4 40 1 15 11
M. Sanu 12 WR
3
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
6 4 31 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 60 632 5
M. Sanu 6 4 31 0 10 3
T. Gabriel 18 WR
3
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
4 1 20 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 33 378 1
T. Gabriel 4 1 20 0 20 3
D. Freeman 24 RB
3
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
3 2 20 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 27 232 0
D. Freeman 3 2 20 0 12 3
A. Hooper 81 TE
1
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
4 3 18 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 46 491 3
A. Hooper 4 3 18 0 10 1
J. Hardy 14 WR
1
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
1 1 10 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 18 189 3
J. Hardy 1 1 10 0 10 1
D. Coleman 40 FB
0
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
1 0 0 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 2 20 0
D. Coleman 1 0 0 0 0 0
M. Hall 17 WR
0
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
1 0 0 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 2 60 1
M. Hall 1 0 0 0 0 0
Defense T-A SACK INT FF
D. Jones 45 MLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
8-2 1 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
86-42 3 1.0
D. Jones 8-2 0.0 1 0
K. Neal 22 SS
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
8-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
79-32 0 0.0
K. Neal 8-2 0.0 0 0
B. Poole 34 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
7-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
48-13 0 1.0
B. Poole 7-0 0.0 0 0
G. Jarrett 97 DT
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
4-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
32-21 0 3.0
G. Jarrett 4-2 0.0 0 0
D. Trufant 21 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
3-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
34-5 2 1.0
D. Trufant 3-0 0.0 0 0
R. Alford 23 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
57-8 0 0.0
R. Alford 2-0 0.0 0 0
V. Beasley 44 OLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
22-6 0 4.0
V. Beasley 2-0 0.0 0 0
B. Reed 50 DE
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
22-17 0 4.0
B. Reed 2-2 0.0 0 0
R. Allen 37 FS
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
38-14 0 0.0
R. Allen 1-0 0.0 0 0
D. Poe 92 DT
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
23-14 0 2.0
D. Poe 1-1 0.0 0 0
C. Upshaw 91 DE
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-0 0 1.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
3-3 0 1.0
C. Upshaw 1-0 1.0 0 0
D. Campbell 59 OLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
58-30 0 2.0
D. Campbell 1-2 0.0 0 0
D. Riley 42 OLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
12-15 0 0.0
D. Riley 1-1 0.0 0 0
K. Ishmael 36 SS
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
0-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
14-13 0 1.0
K. Ishmael 0-1 0.0 0 0
A. Clayborn 99 DE
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
0-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
17-4 0 9.0
A. Clayborn 0-1 0.0 0 0
Kicking FG LG XP PTS
M. Bryant 3 K
7
FPTS
IN-GAME FG XP
2/2 1/1
SEASON FG XP
29/34 34/34
M. Bryant 2/2 48 1/1 7
Punting NO AVG IN20 LG
M. Bosher 5 P
IN-GAME NO AVG IN20
5 46.8 1
SEASON NO AVG IN20
48 44.7 17
M. Bosher 5 46.8 1 55
Kickoff Returns NO AVG LG TD
A. Roberts 19 WR
0
FPTS
IN-GAME NO AVG LG TD
2 22.5 25 0
SEASON NO AVG LG TD
38 22.6 61 0
A. Roberts 2 22.5 25 0
Punt Returns NO AVG LG TD
A. Roberts 19 WR
0
FPTS
IN-GAME NO AVG LG TD
3 9.7 19 0
SEASON NO AVG LG TD
23 8.0 27 0
A. Roberts 3 9.7 19 0
Passing CP/ATT YDS TD INT FPTS
D. Brees 9 QB
13
FPTS
IN-GAME COMP% YDS TD INT RTG
75% 239 1 1 97.2
SEASON COMP% YDS TD INT RTG
71.9% 4089 22 8 103.6
D. Brees 21/28 239 1 1 13
Rushing ATT YDS TD LG FPTS
M. Ingram 22 RB
12
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
13 44 1
SEASON ATT YDS TD
217 1089 12
M. Ingram 13 44 1 26 12
A. Kamara 41 RB
8
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
12 32 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
111 684 7
A. Kamara 12 32 0 15 8
T. Ginn 19 WR
14
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
2 14 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
9 37 0
T. Ginn 2 14 0 15 14
D. Brees 9 QB
13
FPTS
IN-GAME ATT YDS TD
4 -4 0
SEASON ATT YDS TD
32 10 2
D. Brees 4 -4 0 0 13
Receiving TAR REC YDS TD LG FPTS
T. Ginn 19 WR
14
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
5 4 76 1
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 50 754 4
T. Ginn 5 4 76 1 54 14
M. Thomas 13 WR
6
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
5 4 66 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 98 1151 5
M. Thomas 5 4 66 0 27 6
A. Kamara 41 RB
8
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
9 7 58 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 75 742 5
A. Kamara 9 7 58 0 25 8
M. Ingram 22 RB
12
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
3 3 22 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 54 397 0
M. Ingram 3 3 22 0 12 12
J. Hill 89 TE
1
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
3 2 11 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 15 117 1
J. Hill 3 2 11 0 7 1
W. Snead 83 WR
0
FPTS
IN-GAME TGT REC YDS TD
3 1 6 0
SEASON TGT REC YDS TD
- 8 92 0
W. Snead 3 1 6 0 6 0
Defense T-A SACK INT FF
C. Robertson 52 OLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
7-3 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
49-27 1 2.0
C. Robertson 7-3 0.0 0 0
M. Lattimore 23 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
5-1 1 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
41-9 5 0.0
M. Lattimore 5-1 0.0 1 0
K. Crawley 20 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
4-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
42-6 1 0.0
K. Crawley 4-1 0.0 0 0
M. Williams 43 FS
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
4-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
51-13 2 0.0
M. Williams 4-1 0.0 0 0
C. Jordan 94 DE
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
3-0 0 2.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
44-14 1 12.0
C. Jordan 3-0 2.0 0 0
M. Te'o 51 MLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
3-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
37-20 0 0.0
M. Te'o 3-1 0.0 0 0
D. Onyemata 93 DT
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-1 0 0.5
SEASON T-A INT SACK
16-19 0 1.5
D. Onyemata 2-1 0.5 0 0
T. Davison 95 DT
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-1 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
20-9 0 0.0
T. Davison 2-1 0.0 0 1
S. Rankins 98 DT
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
2-2 0 1.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
15-11 1 2.0
S. Rankins 2-2 1.0 0 0
R. Bush 25 DB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
13-5 0 1.0
R. Bush 1-0 0.0 0 0
V. Bell 48 FS
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
53-20 0 3.0
V. Bell 1-2 0.0 0 0
G. Johnson 90 DE
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-1 0 1.5
SEASON T-A INT SACK
5-1 0 2.5
G. Johnson 1-1 1.5 0 0
P. Williams 26 CB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
1-0 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
30-13 2 0.0
P. Williams 1-0 0.0 0 0
H. Kikaha 44 OLB
IN-GAME T-A INT SACK
0-2 0 0.0
SEASON T-A INT SACK
6-4 0 4.0
H. Kikaha 0-2 0.0 0 0
Kicking FG LG XP PTS
W. Lutz 3 K
11
FPTS
IN-GAME FG XP
3/3 2/2
SEASON FG XP
30/35 44/47
W. Lutz 3/3 45 2/2 11
Punting NO AVG IN20 LG
T. Morstead 6 P
IN-GAME NO AVG IN20
6 44.7 1
SEASON NO AVG IN20
56 47.1 23
T. Morstead 6 44.7 1 59
Kickoff Returns NO AVG LG TD
A. Kamara 41 RB
8
FPTS
IN-GAME NO AVG LG TD
2 36.0 49 0
SEASON NO AVG LG TD
7 27.4 49 0
A. Kamara 2 36.0 49 0
Punt Returns NO AVG LG TD
T. Lewis 11 WR
0
FPTS
IN-GAME NO AVG LG TD
4 10.8 18 0
SEASON NO AVG LG TD
13 9.4 24 0
T. Lewis 4 10.8 18 0
1st POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
15:00 ATL 25 3:25 6 9 Punt
7:31 ATL 15 2:47 4 21 Punt
0:27 ATL 24 5:47 7 0 Punt
2nd POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
1:19 ATL 25 0:29 4 23 INT
0:14 ATL 25 0:14 1 -1 Half
3rd POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
14:13 NO 2 0:43 2 -2 Fumble
11:57 NO 48 2:23 7 29 FG
7:44 ATL 21 2:51 5 17 Punt
2:52 ATL 25 2:56 7 74 Downs
4th POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
11:24 NO 48 1:06 5 18 FG
6:10 ATL 10 2:10 3 -7 Punt
3:38 ATL 25 0:58 8 75 TD
0:23 ATL 35 0:23 4 11 Game
1st POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
11:35 NO 38 4:04 8 40 FG
4:44 NO 17 4:17 7 15 Punt
2nd POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
9:40 NO 21 8:21 16 68 FG
0:50 NO 36 0:36 3 64 TD
3rd POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
15:00 NO 48 0:47 1 -10 INT
13:30 NO 4 1:33 3 7 Punt
9:34 NO 20 1:50 3 8 Punt
4:53 NO 46 2:01 4 54 TD
4th POSS PLAYS YDS RESULT
14:56 NO 1 3:32 5 20 Punt
10:18 NO 25 4:08 6 26 Punt
4:00 ATL 33 0:22 4 6 FG
2:40 NO 28 2:17 3 -4 Punt