Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - Page 20 News List

Saints grind out ugly win over Falcons

Reuters

Darius Johnson of the Atlanta Falcons, front, fumbles as he is hit by Keyunta Dawson of the New Orleans Saints in their NFL game in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

The New Orleans Saints ground out a vital 17-13 win over the struggling Atlanta Falcons on Thursday to maintain their division lead over a surging Carolina Panthers.

The Saints were far from their best, but improved to 9-2 for the season with their third straight win, while the Falcons slumped to 2-9 following a fifth straight loss.

After leading by a single point at halftime, a Garrett Hartley field goal supplied the only score of a grinding second half for the visitors.

Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled early in the fourth quarter while in a scoring position, coughing up a key turnover in the hosts’ quest for an upset victory.

New Orleans remain top of the National Football Conference South division with the Panthers (7-3) in the midst of a six-game winning run and with a game in hand against Miami tomorrow.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 23 of 33 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns, while tight-end James Graham had a 100-yard receiving game from just five receptions.

“We knew what type of game it was going to be. I guess nine of our last 12 games with these guys have gone down to the last possession and it did again today,” Brees told reporters. “They are a great football team, despite what their record might say and we knew that.”

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed 30 of 39 passes for 297 yards, but failed to throw for a score.

The hosts showed plenty of intent from the outset, marching down the field in the opening drive, with Steven Jackson capping it off with a one-yard touchdown run and an early 7-0 Falcons lead.

However, the Saints matched them by scoring on their opening drive, Benjamin Watson the beneficiary of a one-yard pass from Brees to tie it up at the end of the first quarter.

Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant gave his side a 10-7 lead with a 39-yard field goal, before Brees found James Graham with a long bomb and he took it to the end zone for a 44-yard score.

Another Bryant field goal as the half came to a close gave the visiting Saints a slender 14-13 halftime lead.

Hartley extended the advantage to 17-13 with a field goal early in the second half and the four-point margin held firm.

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