ATLANTA — New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian and his teammates saw their playoff hopes end not on the field against the Atlanta Falcons, but in the visitors' locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
For that cold reality to hit the Saints only minutes after Sunday's 30-20 win over Atlanta left them with what Siemian described as "a hollow feeling."
The Saints (9-8) rushed off the field after beating their NFC South Division rivals in a must-win matchup to watch the final minutes of the San Francisco 49ers' 27-24 overtime win against the host Los Angeles Rams. The Saints, who won four of their final five games after dropping five in a row, also needed the Rams to win in order to make the playoffs.
They kept up with the 49ers-Rams game on the sideline, and so there was a rush to watch the ending on TV.
"It's hard when your future, your fate, is in somebody else's hands," said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who forced a fumble against the Falcons.
New Orleans finished short of a wild-card spot and a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
"You want to cherish it when you win ... but when you watch another team lose ... it's a hollow feeling," Siemian said.
Said New Orleans cornerback Paulson Adebo, who had an interception: "Ideally, you play to where you control your own destiny. In this situation, we had to rely on other teams, and that's not what you want to do."
Siemian led back-to-back scoring drives after two Atlanta turnovers late in the first half as the Saints overcame the loss of quarterback Taysom Hill to a left foot injury.
Alvin Kamara ran for 146 yards on a career-high 30 carries for the Saints, topping his combined 102 yards in his past three games with his first 100-yard game since Dec. 12, when he had 120 against the New York Jets.
The Falcons (7-10), whose playoff hopes ended a week earlier with a road loss to the Buffalo Bills, were hurt by three turnovers, including two fumbles by running back Mike Davis.
With some six minutes left in the first half, the Saints were up 7-6 when Hill was injured on a 1-yard run. He went into the Saints' medical tent on the sideline before being escorted to the locker room.
Siemian took over and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith, and then a pair of Atlanta turnovers helped the Saints extend the 14-6 lead. Paulson Adebo intercepted Matt Ryan's pass for Russell Gage, setting up Brett Maher's 37-yard field goal.
On the Falcons' next play, Davis fumbled when he was hit by Jenkins, and Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander recovered. Siemian's 5-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson with two seconds remaining gave the visitors a 24-6 halftime advantage.
Ryan said the two turnovers "really hurt. Breathed some life into them and gave them an opportunity to score some points before the half, which is always tough to overcome."
Siemian, who started in the Saints' 27-25 home loss to the Falcons on Nov. 8, was 9-of-15 passing for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons had no answer in their running game. Davis led Atlanta with rushing 30 yards on six carries, and his second lost fumble, forced by Alexander and recovered by Shy Tuttle, came in the fourth quarter and set up Maher's third field goal in four tries.
A rare highlight for Atlanta came on Qadree Ollison's 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts returned from a hamstring injury but fell short in his bid to pass Mike Ditka's record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end. Ditka had 1,076 yards in 14 games for Chicago in 1961; Pitts, who had only two catches for 8 yards on Sunday, finished with 1,026 yards in the NFL's first 17-game regular season.
Atlanta's season-long difficulties in protecting Ryan continued. The Saints had three sacks, including one by Cameron Jordan. Ryan was 20-of-33 for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Arthur Blank missed his first regular-season game since becoming the Falcons' owner in 2002 after testing positive for COVID-19. The team said the 79-year-old Blank is fully vaccinated, has mild symptoms and "is doing well and in great spirits."
After playing the 2021 season on a one-year contract for $3 million, Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson is bound for free agency. He could be attractive for many teams after proving he can be productive as a runner, receiver and return specialist.
Patterson made it known Sunday he's open to signing with Atlanta. The former University of Tennessee standout wrote on one of his cleats: "Why not retire in Atlanta?"