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Falcons knock off Saints 30-14

Saints eliminated from playoff contention

Official team photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday, December 21, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)

The Atlanta Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-14 on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints' loss, their fifth consecutive at home, coupled with Carolina's win over Cleveland knocked New Orleans (6-9) out of contention for the NFC South title.

The Falcons (6-9) will play Carolina next week with the winner taking the division crown.

The Saints tried to rally in the second half but a call that went in Atlanta's favor made the mountain too tall to climb. Trailing 20-7, quarterback Drew Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham with an apparent 14-yard touchdown pass but the officials ruled he fumbled before the ball crossed the goal line and Atlanta recovered. After forcing Atlanta to punt Brees and Graham were able to connect for a 4-yard scoring strike to make it 20-14 with 5:48 to play.

But on the Saints' next possession Robert McLain intercepted Brees and Atlanta turned the turnover into a field goal and a 23-14 lead. On the Saints' final drive Brees was sacked and lost a fumble that was returned 86 yards by Osi Umenyiora for a touchdown as time expired.

It was one of four turnovers by the Saints (two interceptions, two lost fumbles) while the Saints' defense didn't force any Atlanta turnovers.

The Saints led 7-0 early thanks to Jalen Saunders' 99-yard return of the opening kickoff to set up a 1-yard Mark Ingram touchdown but Atlanta chipped away at the lead with a couple of field goals and a 3-yard shuffle pass to Eric Weems for a score and 13-7 halftime lead that they were able to protect.

The Saints played without starting left tackle Terron Armstead and Atlanta was able get consistent pressure on Brees. He finished 30 of 47 for 313 yards with one TD and the two interceptions. Mark Ingram was the leading rusher with 13 carries for 38 yards. Marques Colston had six receptions for 80 yards, Kenny Stills added six receptions for 68 yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham added six catches for 53 yards and the touchdown.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was 30 of 40 for 322 yards with one touchdown. Julio Jones had seven receptions for 107 yards. Atlanta finished with five sacks.

The Saints will end their season next Sunday at Tampa Bay.

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