If the Seahawks hadn’t scrubbed the rug of the Georgia Dome with the Falcons two weeks earlier, perhaps the Saints’ 17-13 win over Atlanta would have been a tad more impressive.
But the next opponent of the Seahawks did not instill shock and awe Thursday night, allowing the Falcons to create actual suspense, until their last possession inside three minutes sputtered, then died, on a 52-yard field goal attempt that missed.
The Falcons trailed only 14-13 at the half and held quarterback Drew Brees to 278 passing yards, his second-lowest total of the season. The Seahawks were up 23-3 at halftime of a 33-10 win over the Falcons that coach Pete Carroll described as Seattle’s most complete triumph of the year.
The Saints advanced to 9-2 to remain second behind the Seahawks’ 10-1, which sets up a much-anticipated clash on Monday Night Football Dec. 2 between the teams with the NFC’s best records. The win was the 13th by the Saints in the past 16 games between the clubs.
The Falcons (2-9) lost their fifth in a row and were eliminated from the playoffs with five weeks remaining. They were 13-3 a year ago when they eliminated the Seahawks from the playoffs.
A week earlier, the Saints had an even closer call against the 49ers, winning at home 23-20 on a last-second field goal. The Seahawks beat the 49ers in September 29-3 and will play the sagging Niners, at 6-4 the current No. 6 seed in the NFC, at Candlestick Dec. 8.
The Saints sacked quarterback Matt Ryan five times — 2.5 by DE Cameron Jordan — just as did the Seahawks, which Thursday helped negate a decent 360 yards of offense by the Falcons.
Brees directed touchdown drives of 78 yards on the Saints’ first possession, then 80 yards in the second quarter, capped by a 44-yard catch-and-run by Jimmy Graham, who celebrated by dunking over the crossbar. But his hang time caused the uprights to tilt askew, requiring a delay while the grounds crew made all things equal.
The Saints, averaging 419 yards entering the game, second in the NFL, finished with 374. Graham had five catches and 100 yards, clearly recovered from injuries earlier in the season. RB Pierre Thomas had 73 yards in 10 carries while RB Darren Sproles was held out to rest ankle and knee injuries from the San Francisco game.
The Saints’ losses were on the road to New England 30-27 and to the New York Jets 26-20.