Falcons put end to Brees' TD streak
The Atlanta Falcons couldn't do anything offensively.
Not to worry. The defense left Drew Brees with egg on his face.
Brees threw five interceptions for the first time in his career and,
rubbing salt in the wound, the Falcons also ended his NFL-record streak
of touchdown passes. The result was a 23-13 victory Thursday night that
pushed Atlanta to the brink of a division championship and might have
finished off the Saints' fading playoff hopes.
The Falcons (11-1) built an early 17-0 lead, then struggled to move the
ball. They finished with 283 yards, by far the lowest total allowed
this season by a Saints defense that was on pace to give up the most
yards in NFL history.
But William Moore had two interceptions, and Thomas Decoud, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux had one pick apiece. Another by
Corey Peters didn't count because of a penalty.
''That's the first time that's ever happened to me, so that's extremely
disappointing,'' Brees said. ''I pride myself on being a good
decision-maker and not someone who will be a detriment to the game.''
The Falcons will clinch the NFC South with a month to go if Tampa Bay
loses at Denver on Sunday. The Saints (5-7) need to win out to have any
chance, and even that might not be enough to get the defending division
champs back to the playoffs.
''It looks pretty bleak right now,'' interim coach Joe Vitt said.
Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking
Johnny Unitas' long-standing record earlier this season. There was an
apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but it
was nullified by a penalty.
''I didn't realize that until we walked off the field,'' Falcons coach
Mike Smith said. ''That's an unbelievable streak. Drew Brees is an
outstanding quarterback. The way the defense played tonight speaks
volumes. The guys had gone out there and thrown touchdown after
touchdown game after game after game.''
After Sproles' TD was wiped off the board, Brees made another huge
mistake with New Orleans inside the Atlanta 10, allowing the clock to
run out in the first half without at least attempting a field goal.
Four days earlier, Brees had two passes picked off and returned for
touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.
This one was even worse. He finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards but had a
rating of just 37.6, the third-lowest off his career.
''I feel we have one of the best secondaries in the NFL,'' Falcons
cornerback Dunta Robinson said, ''and I think we came out and showed
When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the
airport, epitomizing the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans
had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13.
This time, Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, and Matt Bryant
booted three field goals, including a 55-yarder.
The defense did the rest.
''We got the monkey off our back,'' DeCoud said.
After winning so many close games, the Falcons started this one as if
they were intent on routing the only team to beat them this season. New
Orleans knocked off Atlanta 31-27 at the Superdome on Nov. 11, the
bright spot in a tumultuous year that was marred by a bounty scandal
and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.
Ryan completed a pass on the first play from scrimmage before turning
it over to a running game that has struggled most of the season. Turner
burst around right end for a 35-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers broke off
two straight 14-yard gains. Finally, it was Turner going in standing
from 3 yards out, giving Atlanta a quick 7-0 lead.
That was Turner's 58th touchdown in five seasons with the Falcons,
breaking the team record he had shared with Terance Mathis.
Atlanta struck again in the opening minute of the second period. Julio Jones hauled in an 18-yard throw from Ryan, setting up a 17-yard
touchdown pass to Gonzalez in the back of the end zone. He beat former
teammate Curtis Lofton; maybe as a sign of respect, Gonzo just flipped
the ball over the crossbar instead of his customary basketball dunk.
Brees' second interception, this one a sloppy pass behind running Chris Ivory that deflected into the arms of Weatherspoon, set up Bryant's
45-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.
Then, suddenly, the game completely changed.
For the rest of the second quarter and most of the third, the Saints
totally dominated. Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard run, capping an
11-play, 80-yard drive, and New Orleans should have tacked on more
points at the end of the half. Brees made a rookie-like mistake with 12
seconds remaining, dumping a pass over the middle to Sproles with no
timeouts. He was wrapped up at the Atlanta 3 and the clock ran out
before the Saints could spike the ball.
''Honestly, I thought we had more time than we did,'' Brees said. ''The
last time I remember, we had 17 seconds. ... But it was down to 7 when
I looked up after the completion. That wasn't enough time to get the
spike. That's on me.''
But New Orleans got the ball to start the second half, and Brees went
back to work. This time, he made a couple of nifty moves to avoid
sacks, completing six passes on an 83-yard drive consuming 15 plays and
more than 6 1/2 minutes. But the Falcons held again, forcing Garrett
Hartley to boot a 21-yard field goal that cut it to 17-10.
Hartley connected again from much farther out on the Saints' next
possession, a 52-yarder that brought New Orleans even closer.
The Falcons, meanwhile, failed to pick up a first down on five straight
possessions, a stretch in which the Saints had a 289-30 lead in total
yards and a staggering 18 first downs.
But the Atlanta defense kept coming through when it counted.
Late in the third, Brees rolled to his right and threw over the middle.
Moore stepped in front of the receiver and returned it to the New
Orleans 16. Ryan connected on first-down throws to Gonzalez and Roddy White to set up Bryant for a 29-yarder that extended the lead back to a
NOTES: Brees had two previous games with four interceptions. ... This
was Brees' lowest-rated game since joining the Saints in 2006. With San
Diego, he turned in a 35.7 at Washington in 2005 and a 26.8 at Chicago
in 2003. ... Turner ran 12 times for 83 yards. ... Lance Moore of the
Saints hauled in 11 passes for 123 yards.