ATLANTA (AP) Yet another thriller in the NFC South rivalry between the Falcons and Saints.
Matt Ryan threw for a franchise-record 448 yards and Matt Bryant kicked two long field goals, including a 52-yarder in overtime to give the Atlanta Falcons a 37-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Bryant booted a 51-yarder on the final play of regulation. Then he came through again with the winning kick in OT after a Saints turnover, handing the Falcons just their fourth victory over New Orleans in the last 17 meetings. This one was particularly sweet for Atlanta coming off a miserable 4-12 season, its first losing campaign since 2007.
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The teams combined for 17 points in the final 2:50 of the fourth quarter. The Saints got the ball first in overtime, but Marques Colston fumbled a pass over the middle. The Falcons recovered at the Saints 38; three plays gained only 4 yards before Bryant ended it.
The game fit right in with a divisional series in which nine of the previous 12 meetings were decided by eight points or less.
The Falcons (1-0), who twice trailed from 13 points in the first half, went ahead on Jacquizz Rodgers’ dazzling 17-yard run with 2:50 remaining. The diminutive back cut this way and that for a 31-27 lead.
Back came Drew Brees and the Saints (0-1), needing only 90 seconds to go 71 yards. Mark Ingram powered over from the 3 for his second touchdown to make it 34-31 with 1:20 left.
That was enough time for Ryan, who completed 31 of 43 to break the franchise record of 431 yards by Chris Chandler. Ryan completed three passes on the tying drive, the big one a 21-yarder to Devin Hester that set up Bryant’s kick.
On the Saints’ second play of overtime, Colston hauled in a pass that was enough for the first down, but safety William Moore came up from behind to strip it away. Joplo Bartu pounced on it at the New Orleans 38. The Falcons already were close enough for Bryant. There was no doubt about his winning kick.
Brees threw for 333 yards, but was picked off in the end zone in the second half. Colston came up with five receptions for 110 yards, while Jimmy Graham made eight catches for 82 yards. First-round pick Brandin Cooks had an immediate impact with seven receptions for 77 yards.
The Saints scored on all four first-half possessions, working Cooks right into their already dynamic offense. He hauled in a 3-yard pass that pushed New Orleans to a 20-7 lead.
Atlanta cut it to 20-10 going into the break, thanks to a brilliant leaping catch by Roddy White for a 39-yard gain on the next-to-last play of the half. Bryant booted a 40-yard field goal that gave the Falcons a bit of momentum.
It carried over after halftime.
The Falcons took the kickoff and drove 80 yards in 12 plays, two of them big catches by Julio Jones to help make up for a first-half fumble. Ryan finished the drive with a 1-yard pass to tight end Levine Toilolo, who did a pretty good impression of Tony Gonzalez in his first start replacing the retired Hall of Famer-to-be.
Atlanta took the lead for the first time in the final minute of the third quarter. Fourth-string running back Antone Smith took a short pass from Ryan, broke a tackle, split two defenders and turned on an impressive burst of speed down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown that made it 24-20.
But this one was just getting started.
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