Falcons fall to Saints, 48-17, eliminating them from playoffs


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Derek Carr passed for four touchdowns to lift the New Orleans Saints over the Atlanta Falcons 48-17 Sunday, but both teams missed out on a chance to win the division when Tampa Bay beat Carolina.

Either New Orleans (9-8) or Atlanta (7-10) would have won the NFC South by winning their regular-season finale if the Buccaneers lost. Baker Mayfield and Tampa Bay finished a 9-0 victory while the Saints and Falcons were still on the field.

New Orleans can still back-door into an NFC wild-card spot with losses by both Seattle and Green Bay later Sunday.

The Saints' Jamaal Williams had a 1-yard TD run in the final two minutes after New Orleans lined up as if planning to take a knee and run out the clock. The play appeared to upset both the Falcons and Saints coach Dennis Allen.

Carr passed for 264 yards and rookie receiver A.T. Perry caught two scoring passes to double his season total for New Orleans.

In the Atlanta locker room, speculation swirled around the future of third-year coach Arthur Smith following his third-straight losing campaign.

Saints receiver Rashid Shaheed, named to the Pro Bowl as a returner, caught a 39-yard touchdown pass. Chris Olave hauled in a 26-yard touchdown on a contested pass that the receiver tipped to himself in the end zone. New Orleans running back Kendre Miller, returning from a Week 9 ankle injury, rushed for a 3-yard touchdown in the first half.

After Atlanta ruled out quarterback Taylor Heinicke because of an ankle injury, 2022 third-round draft choice Desmond Ridder got his 13th start this season. His day was highlighted by a swing pass that Bijan Robinson turned into a 71-yard touchdown down the left sideline in the first quarter.

Ridder's day was marred by two turnovers that led to Saints touchdowns in the second half. Defensive back Alontae Taylor, who'd been benched for mistakes on a pair of explosive Falcons plays in the first half, intercepted Ridder after returning as an injury replacement. That set up Olave's score that gave New Orleans the lead for good at 24-17 early in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Ridder's shotgun fumble was recovered by defensive end Payton Turner, who was playing for the first time since his Week 1 toe injury. That play set up Perry's second TD catch.

Ridder finished 22 of 30 for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson had seven catches for 103 yards.

Ridder's incomplete passes included one that was nearly intercepted on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter.

That miss — one play after unblocked defensive end Carl Granderson pulled Cordarrelle Patterson down from behind for a loss on third-and-goal from inside the 1 — concluded a pivotal sequence on which Atlanta missed an opportunity to pull within one touchdown.

Ridder was replaced late in the game by Logan Woodside, who was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu. It was the veteran's fourth interception of the season, and he returned it 74 yards before being tackled at the Atlanta 1.