Facing fourth-and-goal on the two-yard line with perfection on the line, Matt Ryan honed in on Roddy White, but Saints cornerback Jabari Greer dove and swatted away the pass at the last moment, sending Atlanta's 8-0 start skittering away.
The Saints needed all of their offense to explode on a day when Atlanta struck the first blows, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first six minutes, but Chris Ivory and the Saints punched right back when Ivory broke off a 56-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The tight ends ruled the next 15 minutes, with Drew Brees hooking up with Jimmy Graham for a 29-yard score, Ryan connecting with Tony Gonzalez for a touchdown and Brees hooking up with Graham again to give the Saints a 21-17 halftime lead.
The Saints scored what could have been a decisive blow early in the third quarter when Ryan threw an interception and Brees led the Saints 81 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-17.
A lesser team surely would have folded to the Saints offense with an 11-point lead, but the 8-0 Falcons were not going to let perfection slip away that easily.
Just a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, Gonzalez found the end zone for the second time, capping off a 91-yard Falcons drive. The Falcons offense reached the red zone but sputtered on their next drive, and were forced to settle for a field goal that made the score 28-27.
The Saints added a field goal on their next drive, and the Falcons took the ball down four with six minutes left on the clock.
Atlanta once again marched down into the red zone, but the Saints defense stiffened when they needed it most -- and sent the Falcons tumbling from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The surging Saints are now 4-5 and riding momentum into a matchup at Oakland, while the 8-1 Falcons return to Atlanta to take on Arizona. The two teams will meet again in just three weeks, and hopefully reprise an excellent game.
Fantasy studs: Where to start? For the Falcons, Ryan had another phenomenal day, throwing for 411 yards and three touchdowns, and Gonzalez was the biggest beneficiary, catching 11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. For the Saints, the star of the day was Graham, who hauled in seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Ivory also had a breakout day, running for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Fantasy duds: Michael Turner was the biggest dud today, only accounting for 15 yards on the ground against the usually-awful New Orleans run defense.
Did they cover?: The Falcons were 2.5-point favorites, and therefore did not cover.