Saints down Falcons to clinch playoff spot

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr., and Mark Ingram II ran 26 yards for a score to power the New Orleans Saints to a 23-13, playoff-clinching victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints (11-4) earned the playoff berth after missing the postseason during the oast three 7-9 seasons. The Falcons, who had won five of their previous six games by averaging 24.7 points a game, failed to score a touchdown in the first 57 minutes and fell to 9-6.

New Orleans can win the NFC South with a victory at Tampa Bay next week or a Carolina loss at Atlanta. The Panthers are also 11-4, but the Saints hold the tiebreaker based on their sweep of the regular-season series.

The Saints moved the ball well between the 20-yard lines but still led just 6-0 late in the second quarter on field goals of 40 and 29 yards by Wil Lutz.

That was when the game changed on an amazing interception by New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The Falcons had a third-and-10 at their 48, and quarterback Matt Ryan seemed to have receiver Marvin Hall in his sights for the first down on a mid-range route. However, the ball deflected off Hall's hands and landed directly on the backside of Lattimore.

Saints teammates Vonn Bell and Craig Robertson kept the ball from hitting the turf, and Lattimore eventually reached around for the interception at the New Orleans 36 with 50 seconds left in the half.

Three plays later, Brees found Ginn alone versus man-to-man coverage by cornerback Desmond Trufant, and the 54-yard touchdown connection expanded the Saints' lead to 13-0 with 14 seconds to play before halftime.

Brees finished 21 of 28 for 239 yards, and Ryan was 22 of 36 for 288 yards. Each had one touchdown pass and one interception.

The Falcons did not cross midfield and picked up only five first downs in the first half. Atlanta also hurt itself with six penalties for 59 yards in the first half, three coming on one drive in which the Falcons found themselves in a first-and-40 hole.

The Falcons cut the deficit to 13-3 on Matt Bryant's 37-yard field goal, but Ingram broke open the game, 20-3, with his 26-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. The Falcons had a chance to cut into the deficit, but a fourth-and-goal gamble from inside the New Orleans failed when defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha nailed Devonta Freeman in the backfield for no gain, turning the ball over on downs.

Lutz added a 45-yard field goal with 3:38 left, and Ryan hit running back Tevin Coleman for a 14-yard touchdown with 2:40 left for final margin.

The Falcons finished with 10 penalties for 91 yards.

NOTES: QB Drew Brees became only the third quarterback in NFL history to reach the 70,000-yard career mark, joining No. 1 Peyton Manning (71,940) and Brett Favre (71,838). Brees finished the game at 70,200 yards. He needs 1,740 yards to surpass Manning for all-time No. 1, which he should reach next year barring injury. ... The Saints had a 16-play drive in the second quarter, eating up 8:21 of the clock, but they had to settle for a 29-yard Wil Lutz field goal. The drive ended with two bad exchanges between Brees and RB Mark Ingram. ... Saints LT Terron Armstead left with a quad injury.
Final1st2nd3rd4thScore
New Orleans SaintsSaints3107323
Atlanta FalconsFalcons0031013
New Orleans
Passing:Drew Brees 21/28 (239 YDS)
Rushing:Mark Ingram II 13 CAR (44 YDS)
Receiving:Ted Ginn Jr. 4 REC (76 YDS)
Atlanta
Passing:Matt Ryan 22/36 (288 YDS)
Rushing:Devonta Freeman 11 CAR (36 YDS)
Receiving:Julio Jones 7 REC (149 YDS)
Season Series
New OrleansStatsAtlanta
2-3Vs3-2
132Points141
16Touchdowns18
7/9Field Goals5/6
153/221 (1583 yd.)Passing116/173 (1349 yd.)
115 CAR (445 yd.)Rushing137 CAR (728 yd.)