NEW ORLEANS — The Falcons were hoping to “spark” their passing attack with the move to quarterback Desmond Ridder.

That didn’t happen as the rookie third-round pick (74th overall) made his first regular-season start in place of Marcus Mariota.

While the Falcons struggled through the air, Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill had their way passing the ball on the way to a 21-18 win Sunday at Caesars Superdome.

Dalton tossed two touchdown passes to tight end Juwan Johnson, and Hill unleashed a 68-yard bomb to wide receiver Rashid Shaheed to lift the Saints.

The Saints improved to 5-9, and the Falcons dropped to 5-9. The Bucs were defeated by the Bengals to drop to 6-8. The Panthers lost to the Steelers to drop to 5-9.

The Falcons, Saints and Bucs are one game behind the Bucs with three games to play.

“I mean, right now, we just have to take it one game at a time,” Falcons outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “Playoffs, if we get in, we get in. But right now, we just have to get a win. That’s it.”

The Falcons have dropped three games in a row and five of their past six games.

It wasn’t a particularly great day for Ridder, who had one potential interception dropped and another one overturned by replay. He completed 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 59.3.

“From my standpoint, obviously it was not where we want it to be,” Ridder said of the passing attack. “On those deep balls, we have to give those guys a chance to go make a play.

“I was trying to be too perfect on those. I try to put it out in front of them to make a perfect ball when in reality all you have to do is give them a chance.”

The Falcons continued to run the ball well as rookie running back Tyler Allgeier had his first 100-yard game. He finished with 17 carries for 139 yards, with a touchdown and a two-point conversion run.

Atlanta’s defense continued to struggle on third down. The Saints converted 5 of 11 third downs (45.5%).

Ridder entered the fourth quarter with 60 yards passing, and 52 of them were to Drake London, who caught 5 of 8 targets. London had a costly fumble as the Falcons were driving to tie or take the lead late.

London had picked up an apparent first down, but Saints free safety Justin Evans knocked the ball out. It was recovered by Saints cornerback Bradley Roby with 2:03 to play.

“We’ve got to do a better job of ball security,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “They made a play and popped it out. We have to do a better job there. We had a chance to go in there and win the game or at least tie it.”

London caught 7 of 11 targets for 70 yards. He was distraught after the fumble. He knew what had happened and slowly gathered himself up off the field.

“I’m not going to be all happy about it,” London said. “I just sold the game. It’s hard. I’m a competitive person, and for me to let the team down, let the fans down, it just (hurts). I’m not going to sit here and be all smiles ... about it. It’s a hard one to swallow. A bitter one.”

The Saints were able to run out most of the clock. The Falcons got the ball back with nine seconds left. Ridder tossed a pass to London and then ran out the clock on a scramble without getting off a long throw to the end zone.

Ridder impressed some of the veterans.

“He’s a steady presence,” Falcons offensive guard Chris Lindstrom said. “It didn’t start out the way that we wanted it to. But his mindset didn’t change. His energy didn’t change. He was communicating with us.”

The Saints held a 14-3 lead at halftime.

The Saints opened with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

The Saints picked up yards in chunks as they had gains of 14, 16 and 18 before Dalton tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.

Ridder tossed an incompletion up the left sideline to a well-covered Cordarrelle Patterson on his first play from scrimmage. The Falcons went three-and-out and punted.

After a running play, Hill came on for the Saints and tossed the 68-yard bomb to Shaheed. Free safety Richie Grant tried to undercut the route and whiffed on his interception attempt.

Before most of the locals had comfortably eased into their seats, the Saints were up 14-0.

After an exchange of punts, Atlanta’s offense finally got moving. Ridder connected three times with London for 33 yards as he moved the team down to the Saints’ 7-yard line. On third-and-4, he was sacked by defensive tackle Kentavius Street. Younghoe Koo came on to make a 28-yard field goal to make it 14-3 in the second quarter.

On the Saints’ next possession, running back David Johnson fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Carter at the Falcons’ 15-yard line.

The offense had the ball back with 7:24 left in the second quarter but was held to a three-and-out. After a 46-yard punt by Bradley Pinion, the Saints had the ball at their 37 with 5:37 left in the quarter.

The New Orleans drive stalled, and the Saints punted and pinned the Falcons inside the 5 at the 2-yard line with 3:18 left in the second quarter.

The Falcons pounded the ball out to the Saints’ 47 before stalling. They needed about 12 more yards to set up Koo for a 52-yard field-goal attempt.

Ridder was sacked and threw two incompletions, and Atlanta was forced to punt. The Falcons hoped to get a field goal to end the half because they were getting the ball to start the second half.

Ridder’s first pass of the third quarter was nearly disastrous. He held on to the ball too long before throwing to London. Saints cornerback Alontae Taylor undercut the route and made an apparent interception.

After the review, the pass was ruled incomplete.

The Falcons then focused on the run, including a 43-yard scamper by Allgeier. He capped the 75-yard drive – all rushing – with a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 14-10.

“We just needed to score,” Allgeier said. “In (the) huddle, everyone had that mindset of what we needed to do. We ended up getting the team in a position to have a chance to win.”

When Atlanta’s defense needed to put its foot down, the Saints promptly drove 75 yards over 11 plays, and Dalton tossed his second touchdown pass to Johnson, a 22-yarder to make it 21-10.

After an exchange of punts, action moved to the fourth quarter. The Falcons put together another rush-only touchdown drive, with Ridder pulling down and running on two plays.

Patterson scored on a 3-yard touchdown run and Allgeier added the two-point conversion run to make it 21-18 with 7:07 to play.

After a holding penalty by the Saints, the Falcons received the ball. A block in the back by Mike Ford on the punt return was costly, though. The Falcons were backed up to their 10-yard line. Avery Williams had a nice 20-yard return out to Atlanta’s 37-yard line nullified.

Ford essentially committed a 27-yard penalty.

Ridder had to go 90 yards for a touchdown or at least 55 yards for a 52-yard field-goal attempt.

The Falcons are now 4-7 in one-score games this season.

Running back Caleb Huntley, who carried the ball on the second play from scrimmage, left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.

“It didn’t look good,” Smith said.

The Falcons are set to play at the Ravens at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

Nov. 27 Commanders 19, Falcons 13

Dec. 4 Steelers 19, Falcons 16


Dec. 18 Saints 21, Falcons 18

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD