NFC South tight­ens up

FAL­CONS 20, SAINTS 17

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Paul New­berry

AT­LANTA» 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. The teams meet again 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 15of-27 for 221 yards.

Brees was 26-of-35 for 271 yards and two TDs.

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