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11/30/2012 1:16 AM EST
Falcons pick off Brees 5 times, beat Saints 23-13
ATLANTA 23, NEW ORLEANS 13

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- 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 that."



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 touchdown.



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.



---



Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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