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New Orleans Saints beat Atlanta Falcons 23-13, earn playoff spot

Team captures first playoff spot since 2013

The New Orleans Saints are back in the playoffs. After sitting out the postseason the past three seasons, New Orleans' 23-13 victory over division rival Atlanta earned the Saints (11-4) a playoff spot.

As expected, Sunday's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was a wild contest between two bitter rivals but the Saints came up with the bigger plays and the win.

The Saints defense, perhaps the story of the team's turnaround this season, came through again with a fourth-and-goal stop at 1 in the fourth quarter and by forcing two turnovers. Defensive end Cam Jordan, putting together an NFL Defensive Player of the Year season, sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan twice (Jordan has 12 on the season), all-everything cornerback Marshon Lattimore made an amazing "butt-interception" and linebacker Manti Te'o and tackle Tyeler Davison combined on a key forced fumble and recovery that ended a likely scoring drive for the Falcons (9-6). Te'o played a very strong game in placed of injured starter A.J. Klein and the Saints defense registered three other sacks.

The Saints offense, featuring all-everything rookie Alvin Kamara, came up with two big scoring plays to provide the winning points. The first came on a 54-yard scoring bomb from Drew Brees to Ted Ginn Jr.  (set up by Lattimore's pick) and the second a 26-yard scoring scamper Mark Ingram that put the Saints up 20-3.

In a reversal on the Saints loss to the Falcons two weeks ago, the Falcons were penalized 10 times for 91 yards. The Saints had three penalties for 30 yards.

The Saints finished their regular-season slate of games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome 7-1. They will end the regular season at division rival Tampa next Sunday, Dec. 31 at noon on Fox and then find out their playoff fate. The Panthers (11-4) defeated Tampa on Sunday which means the Saints will win the NFC South with a victory over the Buccaneers or if the Panthers lose to the Falcons.

Odds and ends: Brees passed the 70,000-yard mark in career passing in the first half nad passed the 4,000-yard mark for the 12th consecutive season. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead had to leave the game. Andrus Peat took his spot and Senio Kelemete came in to play left guard. Wil Lutz made three field goals for the Saints (40, 29 and 45 yards)

New Orleans Saints key stats

Drew Brees, 21 of 28 for 239 yards with one touchdown and one interception

Mark Ingram, 13 carries for 44 yards with one TD

Alvin Kamara, 12 carries for 32 yards

Michael Thomas, four catches for 66 yards

Atlanta Falcons key stats

Matt Ryan, 22 of 36 for 288 yards with one touchdown and one interception

Devonta Freeman, 11 carries for 36 yards

Julio Jones, seven receptions for 149 yards

Saints fans cheer on the team against the Falcons in Week 16.

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