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Saints shackle Falcons to maintain edge over Panthers

Saints shackle Falcons to maintain edge over Panthers

SAINTS SHACKLE FALCONS: New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Atlanta Falcons punter Matt Bosher (5) and place kicker Matt Bryant (3) react after a missed field goal late in the game during the second half. Photo: Reuters

(Reuters) – 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 in the road game but improved to 9-2 on the season with their third straight win while the Falcons slumped to 2-9 following a fifth consecutive 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 home side’s quest for an upset victory.

New Orleans remains top of the NFC South division with the Panthers (7-3) in the midst of a six-game winning run and a game in hand against Miami on Sunday.

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.

“Obviously, any time you go on the road in your division it is hard to get a win so we battled on both sides of the ball, played very well, gritted it out and got the win.”

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

The home side 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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