Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill combined to throw three touchdown passes, and the New Orleans Saints beat Atlanta 21-18 on Sunday in the debut of Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Juwan Johnson had career-high 67 yards receiving and caught both of Dalton’s scoring passes. Hill, a utility player who lines up mostly at tight end, threw his second touchdown pass of the season on a 73-yard connection with rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed.
New Orleans (5-9) remained mathematically alive in the anemic NFC South — a division in which every team entered Week 15 with a losing record.
Atlanta (5-9) was down by just a field goal and threatening to score with less than three minutes remaining when Ridder hit Drake London over the middle for first-down yardage on fourth-and-5. But safety Justin Evans punched the ball from London’s grasp, and cornerback Bradley Robey snagged it out of the air to give New Orleans the ball on its own 39.
The Saints kept the ball until failing to convert on fourth-and-short in Atlanta territory with 9 seconds left, and the game ended on Ridder’s fruitless scramble two plays later.
The Falcons began the day just one game behind division-leading Tampa Bay, which played one of Sunday’s late-afternoon games against AFC contender Cincinnati. But the Falcons also had lost four of their previous five while season-opening QB Marcus Mariota played through what the team has described as a “chronic” knee problem.
So this week, Atlanta coach Arthur Smith announced he was elevating Ridder to starter and that Mariota would be placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his season.
FALCONS COACH DEAN PEES INJURED IN PREGAME COLLISION, GETS SENT TO HOSPITAL
Ridder completed 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards without an interception. Rookie running back Tyler Allgeier helped the Falcons sustain drives with 139 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
The Saints raced to a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions, beginning when Johnson turned Dalton’s short pass into a 19-yard score by spinning through tackle attempts and diving for the goal line. Hill’s deep throw down the middle to Shaheed came on the next series.
The Falcons cut it to 14-3 after stalling inside the New Orleans 10 and closed to 14-10 on Allgeier’s 5-yard run in the third quarter.
Johnson’s 22-yard TD catch from Dalton widened New Orleans’ lead to 21-10. But Atlanta closed to 21-18 on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 3-yard run and Allgeier’s 2-point conversion on a run with four minutes remaining.
Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees was injured when he was run into by Shaheed as he fielded a punted ball during pre-game warmups. Pees, 73, was taken off the field on a stretcher and taken to a hospital for observation. The Falcons described Pees as “stable, alert and responsive” when he left the Superdome.
Falcons: Running back Caleb Huntley left with an ankle injury in the first quarter.
Saints: Did not report any injuries during the game but played a ninth straight game without top cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen).
Falcons: At Baltimore on Saturday.
Saints: At Cleveland on Saturday.
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