Atlanta - The New Orleans Saints ended the 2015 season on a winning note as they beat NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons 20-17 Sunday at the Georgia Dome thanks to a critical interception by reserve safety Jamarca Sanford and a 30-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.
The Saints end the season at 7-9 while Atlanta finishes 8-8.
Things looked bleak for the Saints after they punted to the Falcons with the score tied at 17 and 1:47 to play. But Sanford jumped in front of a Matt Ryan pass and gave the ball to the Saints at the Falcons' 25. One first down and a few kneel-downs later Forbath drilled the game-winner.
It was the second big game-changing play for the defense in the second half as defensive tackle John Jenkins recovered a Devonta Freeman fumble at the 4-yard line preventing what looked like would be a sure Falcons touchdown.
Drew Brees was 32 of 42 for 323 and one touchdown, Tim Hightower had 16 carries for 66 yards with a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and five catches for 41 yards. Travaris Cadet had a strong all-around game - although his fumble at the 1-yard line prevented New Orleans from taking control earlier - with six receptions for 77 yards and two strong kickoff returns. He even attempted a pass in the second half but Atlanta broke it up. It was a back-and-forth game with the Falcons holding a slim 17-14 halftime lead. The Saints tied the score on a 41-yard Kai Forbath field goal in the third quarter.
The Falcons took their halftime lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to running back Devonta Freeman with 26 seconds left in the half.
Earlier the Falcons scored on a 42-yard pass from Ryan to Tony Moeaki and a 51-yard field goal by Shayne Graham, a former Saints kicker. Ryan was 14 of 20 for 204 yards and two TD passes. Freeman carried the ball 14 times for 47 yards while Julio Jones had four receptions for 66 yards.
Hightower bulled his way into the end zone for a 1-yard score and tight end Benjamin Watson made a diving 13-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan blocked a 45-yard field-goal attempt by Graham in the second quarter.
Ryan was 24 of 36 for 334 yards with two touchdowns and the critical interception. Julio Jones had nine catches for 149 yards.
The Saints lost starting cornerback Delvin Breaux to an ankle injury and starting middle linebacker Stephone Anthony to a heel injury.
In another disappointing note, receiver Willie Snead came up 16 yards short of 1,000 for the season. He would have joined Brandin Cooks in the 1,000-yard club.