ATLANTA (AP) — Deion Jones made a leaping interception in the end zone with 1:25 remaining and the Atlanta Falcons held on for a crucial 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, setting up a three-way race for the NFC South title.
Matt Ryan shook off three interceptions to guide the Falcons to Matt Bryant’s 52-yard field goal with 3:49 to go, snapping a 17-all tie.
The Saints (9-4) were in position to pull out the victory, driving to the Atlanta 11 after Drew Brees converted on fourth-and-1 with a quarterback sneak. On second down, Brees attempted to hit tight end Josh Hill in the back of the end zone.
Jones had other ideas. He soared to make the pick , landing flat on this back but holding on to the ball while his teammates mobbed him.
The Falcons (8-5) climbed within one game of the division-leading Saints with three weeks to go, as New Orleans squandered a chance to build a three-game lead on the defending division champs. Atlanta is back in the race and gets another crack at New Orleans when the teams meet in the next-to-last week of the regular season at the Superdome.
The Carolina Panthers (8-4) are also right in the thick of things.
Ryan had three interceptions in a stretch of nine plays at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. But he tied the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 9:55 remaining , finishing 15 of 27 for 221 yards.
Brees was 26 of 35 for 271 yards and two TDs, but he was kicking himself for trying to force one at the end.
On the opening possession, New Orleans lost half of its dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield when rookie Alvin Kamara took a shot to the helmet and staggered off with a concussion.
Kamara was averaging 7 yards per carry and providing a huge weapon in the passing game, averaging 10.2 yards on 60 receptions. When he went out,…