- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - There will be more talks from Dan Quinn about protecting the ball.

The closing minutes of his first season as the Atlanta Falcons coach provided painful visual evidence for those lessons.

Matt Ryan threw an interception with less than two minutes remaining to set up Kai Forbath’s 30-yard field goal on the final play that lifted the New Orleans Saints to a 20-17 win over the Falcons on Sunday.

“We’re not a good finishing team yet but we will be,” Quinn said.

Jamarca Sanford cut in front of Devonta Freeman at the Atlanta 25 with 1:47 for the crucial interception.

“It got muddied inside and I didn’t see (Sanford) coming on the left side,” Ryan said, adding it was “a bad decision on my part and a disappointing way to end the season.”

The Falcons (8-8) lost 13 fumbles and threw 17 interceptions. Freeman lost a fumble at the Saints 4 early in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to find a way to hold on to the football,” said wide receiver Roddy White.

Quinn frequently talks about takeaways and turnovers as “the philosophy of the ball.”

“For us not to live that and that part to not get across is hard,” Quinn said before promising “That part will be really strong in our game, and that’ll be really evident to everybody who watches us play.”

Quinn could not end Saints coach Sean Payton’s recent domination of the NFC South rivalry. The Saints (7-9) completed their sixth sweep of the season series with the Falcons in 10 years under Payton.

Ryan threw first-half scoring passes to third-string tight end Tony Moeaki and Freeman. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 334 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Julio Jones had nine catches for 149 yards for Atlanta and moved to second place in the NFL single-season records for receiving yards and catches with 136 for 1,871 yards.

Jones passed San Francisco’s Jerry Rice, who had been second with 1,848 yards in 1995. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson set the record with 1,964 yards in 2012. Jones passed Antonio Brown’s 129 catches in 2014 to finish the season behind Marvin Harrison’s record 143 receptions in 2002.

Despite his strong personal numbers, Jones said it was a disappointing finish to the season.

“The effort was there but we never could get over the hump,” Jones said.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 323 yards, including a touchdown pass to Ben Watson.

A personal foul penalty against Falcons left guard Andy Levitre cost Atlanta a possible field-goal opportunity with less than three minutes remaining. A 6-yard pass from Ryan to Justin Hardy would have left the Falcons with a field goal of about 46 yards, but Levitre charged in late to the pile near the catch after Hardy was ruled down, drawing the flag and forcing a Falcons punt.

“There was no intention to cheap-shot anybody,” Levitre said. “I was just trying to help the receiver make a play.”

The teams traded red-zone turnovers to open the fourth quarter.

With the score tied at 17, the Falcons wasted a chance to take the lead when Freeman fumbled on a first-down run from the Saints 3. John Jenkins recovered for the Saints, who drove to the Atlanta 3 before Falcons safety Charles Godfrey forced a fumble by Travaris Cadet. Robert Alford recovered at the 1.

NOTES: Falcons S Ricardo Allen left the game with a concussion in the first quarter. Backup S Robenson Therezie was inactive, so Godfrey played a more prominent role. … Jones was listed as questionable to return with an ankle injury after the first half, but he did not miss any time.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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