ATLANTA - Drew Brees shook off two fourth-quarter interceptions, throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining that gave New Orleans a 17-14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons and clinched a return to the playoffs for the defending Super Bowl champions Monday night.
The Falcons (12-3) had a chance to wrap up their first division crown since 2004 and home-field advantage in the playoffs. But Brees and the Saints (11-4) are still in the mix, making up for a bitter loss to their NFC South rival in Week 3.
Brees completed six straight passes on a 13-play, 90-yard drive, the last of them to the rookie tight end for the winning score. That made up for Chauncey Davis' 26-yard interception return that put the Falcons ahead early in the fourth quarter.
With 14:14 remaining, Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux barreled in and got an arm around Brees, who tried to unload the ball, shoveling it to his left. However, Brees flipped the pass into the hands of opportunistic Falcons defensive end Davis, who chugged 26 yards for a 14-10 lead.
The Falcons were held to just 215 yards of total offense, their lowest of the season.
New Orleans came out at the start and took its patented deep shots down the field, but the Falcons had aggressive coverage.
On their first series, the Falcons appeared to have a big play once wide receiver Roddy White got loose along the sideline and hauled one in. However, New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer and White were called for rare offsetting pass-interference penalties to negate the play. The drive stalled, and Atlanta was forced to punt.
With the Saints holding a 3-0 lead a few possessions later, the Falcons were treated to another weird play. Atlanta center Todd McClure skidded a shotgun snap along the turf, moving the ball only a few inches and it never reached quarterback Matt Ryan. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma dove on the ball at Atlanta's 34 yard line.
It was a costly turnover. The Saints converted it into a touchdown.
After the Saints took the lead in the fourth quarter, Penn Charter grad Ryan had a chance to solidify the nickname "Matty Ice" in front of a national audience.
But it didn't work out quite as he would have liked. After scampering for a 20-yard gain, he couldn't get the Falcons another first down, and they elected to punt with less than 3 minutes remaining.
Atlanta's defense couldn't stop Brees, and the Saints ran out the clock.