Saints complete season with win against division foe Atlanta

Published 12:01 am Monday, January 4, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) — Jamarca Sanford’s first interception in five years helped the Saints sweep the Falcons again.

Sanford picked off Matt Ryan’s pass at the Atlanta 25 with less than two minutes remaining to set up Kai Forbath’s 30-yard field goal as time expired, giving the New Orleans Saints a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Sanford cut in front of Devonta Freeman with 1:47 remaining for his first interception since 2011 with the Vikings. Sanford said defensive back coach Wesley McGriff had him prepared for plays the Falcons like to run in their two-minute offense.

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“I picked up on the angle route with the tailback,” Sanford said. “I got the formation. … I knew they were running the angle route. It was a good job of coach putting me in the right place.”

Ryan said “it got muddied inside and I didn’t see (Sanford) coming on the left side.”

Ryan called the pass “a bad decision on my part and a disappointing way to end the season.”

The Saints completed their sixth sweep of the season series with the Falcons in 10 years under coach Sean Payton. Payton is 15-5 against Atlanta.

The loss denied the Falcons (8-8) their chance to give first-year coach Dan Quinn a winning record. The Saints (7-9) avoided giving Payton his first 10-loss season.

Drew Brees threw for 323 yards, including a touchdown pass to Ben Watson.

There has been speculation this could be the end of the Payton-Drew Brees era in New Orleans. The Saints had their second straight losing record under Payton.

Payton said he will meet with his players on Monday. His postgame news conference grew testy when asked about his future with the team.

“We’ve got to evaluate the roster,” Payton said. “We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do. If I feel the need to get you an itinerary, I will.”

Payton ended his postgame news conference when asked a follow-up question.

Brees has one more season on his contract, which counts about $30 million against the 2016 salary cap. The Saints could lower the cap figure by extending Brees’ contract, but he will celebrate his 37th birthday on Jan. 15.

“I want to play for the Saints,” Brees said. “I don’t want to play for anybody else.”

Julio Jones had nine catches for 149 yards for Atlanta and moved to second place in the NFL single-season records for receiving yards and catches with 136 for 1,871 yards.

Jones passed San Francisco’s Jerry Rice, who had been second with 1,848 yards in 1995. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson set the record with 1,964 yards in 2012. Jones passed Antonio Brown’s 129 catches in 2014 to finish the season behind Marvin Harrison’s record 143 receptions in 2002.

Ryan threw first-half scoring passes to third-string tight end Tony Moeaki and Freeman.

A crucial personal foul penalty against Falcons left guard Andy Levitre cost Atlanta a possible field-goal opportunity with less than three minutes remaining. A 6-yard pass from Ryan to Justin Hardy would have left the Falcons with a field goal of about 46 yards, but Levitre charged in late to the pile near the catch after Hardy was ruled down, drawing the flag and forcing a Falcons punt.

The teams traded red-zone turnovers to open the fourth quarter.

With the score tied at 17, the Falcons wasted a chance to take the lead when Freeman fumbled on a first-down run from the Saints 3. John Jenkins recovered for the Saints, who drove to the Atlanta 3 before Falcons safety Charles Godfrey forced a fumble by Travaris Cadet. Robert Alford recovered at the 1.