ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons raced to a 17-0 lead and the defense made it stand up, picking off five of Drew Brees‘ passes and ending his NFL-record touchdown streak with a 23-13 victory Thursday night.
The Falcons moved to the brink of clinching the NFC South and dealt a big blow to the Saints (5-7) and their fading playoff hopes. William Moore had two of the five interceptions, which were the most of Brees‘ career and came four days after he had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.
The Falcons defense did the rest.
Thomas DeCoud, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux also had interceptions for Atlanta, which will clinch the NFC South with a month to go in the regular season if Tampa Bay loses to Denver on Sunday.
Brees had a couple of games with four picks, but nothing like this. He finished 28-for-50 for 341 yards.
The defending NFC South champion Saints lost their second in a row and will likely have to win out to have even a faint hope of making the postseason during a tumultuous year that was marred by a bounty scandal and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.
After winning so many close games, the Falcons started this one as if they were intent on a rout.
Ryan completed a pass on the first play from scrimmage, then turned 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.
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, then just flipped the ball over the goalposts instead of his customary basketball dunk.
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. But 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.