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Atlanta Falcons defeat New Orleans Saints

ATLANTA — The Falcons moved to the brink of clinching a division championship, while Drew Brees and the Saints wound up with egg on their faces.

After racing to a 17-point lead, the Falcons defense made it stand up, picking off five of Brees' passes and ending his NFL-record touchdown streak in a 23-13 victory over the Saints on Thursday night.

The Falcons (11-1) clinch the NFC South with a month to go if the Bucs lose at Denver on Sunday. They also dealt a big blow to the Saints (5-7) and their fading playoff hopes.

Safety 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.

Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record this season. He had 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. … The way the defense played speaks volumes. The guy had gone out there and thrown touchdown after touchdown game after game after game."

When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the airport, a sign of the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13.

This time, running back Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, tight end 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. Safety Thomas DeCoud, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux also had interceptions for Atlanta, and another pick was wiped out by a penalty.

Brees had a couple of games with four picks, but nothing like this. He finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards.

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, then turned it over to a running game that has struggled most of the season. Turner rumbled for a 35-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers had two straight 14-yard gains. Finally, it was Turner going in from the 3, giving Atlanta a 7-0 lead. It was Turner's 58th TD in five seasons with the Falcons, breaking the team record he had shared with former receiver Terance Mathis.

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.

Atlanta Falcons defeat New Orleans Saints 11/29/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:43am]
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