New Orleans Saints first to clinch playoff spot with win over Atlanta Falcons

New Orleans Saints first to clinch playoff spot with win over Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA — One down, 11 to go.

The New Orleans Saints became the first team to clinch a playoff spot, winning the NFC South on Thanksgiving night and serving up some revenge on their rival Atlanta Falcons for good measure.

The Saints (10-2) beat Atlanta 26-18 just 18 days after their stunning 26-9 loss in the Superdome to these same Falcons (3-9).

The New England Patriots (10-1) and San Francisco 49ers (10-1) can also potentially clinch playoff berths this weekend.

As of now, the Saints are just the 15th team to clinch a division title in Week 13 or earlier since the league went to eight divisions in 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only one of those teams went on to win a Super Bowl — but that team was the 2009 New Orleans Saints.

New Orleans will have a chance to improve its playoff seeding even more next week with a critical home date against the 49ers.

The Saints were far from perfect on Thursday night, thanks to their latest barrage of penalties and some dropped passes by Jared Cook and Michael Thomas (his first since Week 7 of last year).

But they built an early lead thanks to their swiss-army backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who deflected a punt, caught a 3-yard touchdown pass and ran for a 30-yard score in the first half. Hill’s four TD catches this season are more than Odell Beckham Jr. and Davante Adams combined, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Then the Saints’ defense closed out the game with a pair of second-half interceptions by rookie defensive tackle Shy Tuttle and rookie safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and a forced fumble by defensive end Marcus Davenport.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had a quiet night, completing just 18 of 30 passes for 184 yards. But his pass to Hill did tie him with Tom Brady for second place in NFL history with 532 as they race to break Peyton Manning’s record of 539.

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