ATLANTA (AP) — The New Orleans Saints finally gave up a touchdown but the defense stood tall at the end to preserve their ninth straight victory, 21-16 over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
The Saints (10-2) also clinched a playoff berth with Chicago’s 34-30 loss to Detroit.
Making his third straight start in place of Drew Brees, Taysom Hill threw the first two touchdown passes of his career. But his fumble deep in Atlanta territory sparked a Falcons comeback.
Atlanta drove 85 yards against the Saints, capped by Matt Ryan’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage with 7:43 remaining. New Orleans hadn’t allowed a touchdown since the opening drive of a game against San Francisco on Nov. 15, a span of 14 quarters without one.
The Falcons (4-8) got the ball back and again pushed deep into New Orleans territory. On second-and-2 at the Saints 13, Todd Gurley was stuffed for no gain. He got the ball again on third down, trying a sweep around the left end, but Demario Davis caught him for a 7-yard loss.
The Falcons threw into the end zone on fourth down, but the pass feel incomplete to finish off the home team’s best chance at pulling off an upset.
Atlanta got a desperation heave on the final play of the game, but the Saints batted it down.
Hill threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith in the opening quarter — the quarterback’s first scoring throw since his senior year at Brigham Young in 2016. He added another before halftime on an 11-yard toss to tight end Jared Cook.
New Orleans extended the lead to 21-9 on Alvin Kamara’s 11-yard TD run in the third quarter and had a chance to wrap up the game after Ryan fumbled on a play that was initially ruled an incompletion but changed to a fumble after Saints coach Sean Payton challenged the call.
Hill gave it right back. Under heavy pressure, he tried to throw the ball away but wound up fumbling it, giving the Falcons renewed hope.
It was a solid game otherwise for the Saints’ fill-in starter. Hill finished 27 of 37 for 232 yards. He also rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries, including a 43-yard scamper that was the longest run of his career, setting up his first TD pass.
Ryan was 19 of 39 for 273 yards. He was sacked three times — a far cry from the combined 17 times he went down in the last two games against the Saints.