Falcons deal out broom treatment to arch-rival Saints

Published on Sunday, 12/21/14, at 9:36 p.m. Eastern.

Atlanta's Eric Weems scored a crucial touchdown on a shovel pass from Matt Ryan.

Atlanta’s Eric Weems scored a crucial touchdown on a shovel pass from Matt Ryan.

The Atlanta Falcons have had a rough time since blowing a 17-0 lead over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. Going into Sunday’s showdown at arch-rival New Orleans, the 2014 Falcons were on the brink of elimination in the NFC South race.

A loss would result in the exit of Mike Smith, who is undoubtedly the best head coach in franchise history. It might also end up getting the organization’s best GM Thomas Dimitroff a pink slip out of town.

To be clear, those are still possibilities if Atlanta can’t beat Carolina at the Ga. Dome next weekend in what is the de-facto NFC South title game. But at least for a few hours Sunday in the Crescent City, all was right for Arthur Blank, Smith, Dimitroff, Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who enjoyed the team’s finest moment since beating Seattle two years ago in the NFC semifinals.

Not only did Atlanta stay alive for a shot to host a playoff game in two weeks, but it did so by shutting down Drew Brees and ending the Saints’ playoff hopes. The Falcons completed the season sweep, their first against the Saints since 2005, by capturing a 30-14 win as six-point underdogs. They hooked up money-line backers with a +190 payout (risk $100 to win get $190).

Matt Ryan was the best quarterback on the field. He completed 30-of-40 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown without an interception. Julio Jones hauled in seven receptions for 107 yards, while Roddy White had six catches for 55 yards.

Trailing 20-7 with 5:48 remaining, Brees found Jimmy Graham for a four-yard scoring strike to trim the deficit to 20-14. Then when the Saints got a stop and forced a punt, Sean Payton’s squad had the ball and nearly three minutes to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Payton had Brees, still considered one of the NFL’s elite QBs, facing the NFL’s No. 32 ranked defense (that’s dead last).

But on the second play of the possession, Robert McClain stepped in front of Nick Toon to intercept Brees, who was picked off twice in the game. Matt Bryant’s 32-yard field goal put Atlanta ahead 23-14 at the two-minute warning.

Brees drove New Orleans to Atlanta’s eight with 30 seconds left, but he completed a short pass to Mark Ingram, who wasn’t able to get out of bounds. With the clock winding down, Brees got the last snap off with 13 ticks remaining. He got sacked by Kroy Biermann and coughed up the ball.

Osi Umenyiora scooped up the loose ball and darted toward the end zone. He cruised 86 yards to paydirt while the Superdome crowd fell silent. The loss was the Saints’ fifth straight at home. It is the first such home slide in the same season since 1980.

“To eliminate those guys, yes, that feels really good,” veteran WR Roddy White said. “Doesn’t it? Today is a good day.”

It was a good day for Smith, who still has a job, and the Falcons, who still have postseason hopes.

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