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Deion Jones, defense keep the Falcons in playoff hunt

From ESPN - December 7, 2017

ATLANTA -- A swarm of bright red submerged Deion Jones as he held the ball tightly in the end zone.

The Atlanta Falcons linebacker, decked out in his all-red color rush uniform, gave the home crown an adrenaline rush in the final moments of Thursday night's showdown with the New Orleans Saints.

Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone with 1 minute, 25 seconds to play, capping a stellar defensive effort against a potent Saints offense in what no doubt was the biggest Falcons' victory of the season, a 20-17 triumph over their biggest rival and the NFC South leaders.

"It hurt coming down, too," Jones said with a laugh as he reflected on leaping up with both feet and landing on his back.

The pain was worth it. Now 8-5, the Falcons can continue the playoff conversation. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Falcons' chances to make the postseason increased from 36 percent to 52 percent with the win. Had they lost, those chances would have dropped to 19 percent.

Most figured the offense would be what guided the Falcons to victory. But reigning MVP Matt Ryan struggled miserably, throwing three interceptions, two of which he pointed the blame at himself. Penalties were a factor again on offense. And there was a questionable declined penalty late by Falcons coach Dan Quinn that allowed the Saints to convert a fourth-and-1 and keep a potentially game-winning drive alive. Quinn later said he thought New Orleans would attempt a tying field goal.

Then Jones, the New Orleans native who grew up rooting for the Saints, stepped in and stole the show. Literally. The 6-foot-1, 222-pound middle linebacker saw Brees try to isolate him against 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end Josh Hill, but Jones was up for the challenge.

"When the tight end looked back, I looked back, and the ball was right there," said Jones, who also had a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown against Brees in New Orleans last season in a game that started what's now a three-game win streak for the Falcons in the series."I just tried to make a play on the ball, and I happened to catch it. It was a long way down, but I held on to it."

It was Brees' first red-zone interception of the season and just Atlanta's fourth overall. And the Falcons limited the Saints to 3-of-10 on third down, part of the reason a team that entered Thursday scoring 29.4 points per game managed only 17.

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