Report card: Falcons 20, Saints 17

December 7, 2017 Atlanta: Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts Saints quarterback Drew Brees pass intended for tight end Josh Hill (left) in the endzone to hold on to a 20-17 victory in a NFL football game on Thursday, December 7, 2017, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/



December 7, 2017 Atlanta: Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts Saints quarterback Drew Brees pass intended for tight end Josh Hill (left) in the endzone to hold on to a 20-17 victory in a NFL football game on Thursday, December 7, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/

Middle linebacker Deion Jones came up with a big interception in the end zone to help keep the Falcons’ NFC South division title hopes alive on Thursday.

The Falcons held on for a 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints before 72,866 (tickets distributed) fans at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Deion Jones made a terrific play to cap it off,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Jones, a New Orleans native who played at LSU, had a terrific game and was clutch when the defense needed a late stop.

The Falcons improved to 8-5. The Saints dropped to 9-4. The Falcons trail the Saints by one game with three to play. If the Falcons win their final three games, all in the NFC South, they will win the division.

Jones saved the day when quarterback Matt Ryan was misfiring at an alarming rate. Ryan completed 15 of 27 passes for 221 yards for one touchdown and three interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 55.2.

Here are the grades for the game:

Run offense: The Falcons' run game wasn't netting much early, but they stayed with the run and it eventually paid off. Devonta Freeman carried most of the load. He had a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put the Falcons up 10-3. He had 11 rushes for 30 yards at halftime, for a paltry 2.7 average per carry. Coleman wasn't much better with four carries for 15 yards for a 3.8 average. They got the run game rolling in the second half and that was key as Ryan didn't have his best performance. Freeman rushed 24 times for 91 yards. Coleman finished with 32 yards on nine carries before leaving the game with a concussion. Grade: A

Pass offense: The Falcons were determined to get Julio Jones off to a good start. He had three catches for 65 yards before Ryan was intercepted in the final minute of the second quarter and nearly cost the Falcons a field goal. Ryan had plenty of time to throw, but the Saints played tight coverage. He had interceptions on three consecutive possessions. Austin Hooper had a pass that hit him in the chest intercepted on the first play of the third quarter by Saints linebacker Chris Banjo. Safety Marcus Williams intercepted an ill-advised pass in the end zone on the Falcons' next possession. The Saints converted the turnover into a touchdown to take a 17-10 lead. Ryan answered with a 8-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 10:01 left in the fourth quarter.  Jones finished with five catches for 98 yards. Grade: C-minus

Run defense: The Falcons knocked rookie sensation Alvin Kamara out of the game in the first quarter. He suffered a concussion on a hit from linebacker Deion Jones on second-and-10 from Atlanta's 12. Kamara, who played at Norcross High and was the AJC's high school player of the year in 2012, did not return. Mark Ingram had eight rushes for 33 yards for a respectable 4.1 yards per carry at the half. Jones was all over the field making tackles and blowing up screen plays. Grade: B

Pass defense: The Falcons had a mix up on Tommylee Lewis' 26-yard touchdown pass and didn't defend the pick play any better near the goal line and that resulted in a Drew Brees to Mike Thomas 1-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Adrian Clayborn had a big sack midway through fourth quarter to get the ball back for the offense with the score tied. Grade: B

Special teams: Matt Bryant made a 28-yard field to cap the Falcons' first possession and put them ahead 20-17 with a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter. That field goal gave him 1,000 points during his career with the Falcons. Punter Matt Bosher had one punt for 49 yards early. Duke Riley was strong in coverage. The Saints had a bizarre penalty to take a field goal off the board right before halftime when they aligned in an illegal formation. Bosher's 34-yard punt in the third quarter had 4.91 seconds of hangtime and forced Lewis to make a fair catch. Grade: B

Coaching: The offense continued to sputter as the offensive line couldn't open up enough room in the run game and Ryan threw three interceptions, two of them on forced throws. He was victimized by Austin Hooper, on the other when Hooper missed a catch. The defense was ready to play, but had a miscommunication on one touchdown and didn't come underneath the pick on Thomas 1-yard touchdown grab. The Falcons had some bizarre clock management right before the half. They were hurrying up when they had two timeouts. They should have used one to get in a better play and saved one for Bryant. Quinn will also be second-quessed for declining a holding penalty that would have made it third-and-11 from the 34 instead of fourth-and-inches fromt he 24. The Saints picked up the first down. Grade: C

Next up: The Falcons play the Tampa Bay Bucs at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The Bucs (4-8) host the Detroit Lions (6-6) on Sunday.