Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore corralled an unusual, momentum-turning interception off his back , New Orleans made two defensive stands from inside its 2-yard line, and the Saints clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 with a 23-13 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons.
Ted Ginn caught a 54-yard pass for a touchdown, which came a few plays after Lattimore's interception and shortly before halftime. Mark Ingram used a sharp cutback to break loose for a 26-yard touchdown for New Orleans ( 11-4), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season.
While the loss eliminated the Falcons (9-6) from the NFC South race, Atlanta can clinch a wild-card berth by beating Carolina in the final regular-season game on New Year's Eve.
The Falcons entered the game with a second straight division crown in their grasp, but they needed to beat the Saints. They squandered chances spectacularly, much to the delight of a deafening Superdome crowd — and certainly to the chagrin of scattered fans wearing Falcons red. The Falcons were taunted on their way to the game by a plane towing a banner that read "28-3 Merry Xmas," a reference to Atlanta's Super Bowl collapse.
Atlanta trailed 6-0 when Lattimore's interception of Matt Ryan set the Saints up to double their lead.
But early in the third quarter, Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a passed that deflected off of Ginn's hands and returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 2. Devonta Freeman fumbled on a hit by Tyeler Davison two plays later and linebacker Manti Teo recovered.
Drew Brees completed 21 of 28 passes for 239 yards. Brees became the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 70,000 career yards passing, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
Ryan was 22 of 36 for 288 yards. He was sacked five times, twice by Cameron Jordan.