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(Monday, December 26th)
Final Score: New Orleans 45, Atlanta 16
New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Drew Brees broke the NFL record for most passing yards in a single season on Monday night and helped the Saints secure the NFC South in the process.
Brees surpassed the mark set by Dan Marino in 1984 with a 307-yard, four- touchdown performance in a 45-16 victory over the division-rival Falcons.
Marino threw for 5,084 yards in the first full season of his brilliant career, but now sits second to Brees, whose 5,087 passing yards will only be bolstered during next Sunday's season-finale against the Panthers.
"There was a lot of stake," Brees said. "It feels great to be division champs. ... This game couldn't have been more important."
Monday's preview of a potential first-round playoff matchup saw Brees connect with Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem on touchdown passes in New Orleans' (12-3) seventh straight win.
Sproles amassed 236 all-purpose yards and caught Brees' record-breaking pass as the Saints completed a season sweep of the Falcons, who won the division last season and were on a 4-1 stretch coming in.
The Saints need a victory in Week 17 coupled with a 49ers loss to the 2-13 Rams to secure a first-round bye.
Otherwise, they could play the Falcons again in two weeks, as Atlanta (9-6) trails the Lions by one game for the No. 5 seed. Detroit, however, plays at Green Bay on Sunday, while the Falcons, who would hold the tiebreaker between the wild-card teams, close out the regular season with the Buccaneers.
Matt Ryan was an efficient 34-of-52 for 373 yards with a touchdown pass to Julio Jones, who caught eight passes for 128 yards but lost a fumble in the fourth quarter that was returned for a score by Malcolm Jenkins.
"We're obviously disappointed in the way we played tonight," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "We didn't play well enough in any phase of the game to give ourselves a chance to win."
Jenkins' 30-yard touchdown gave the Saints a commanding 38-16 lead with 11:09 remaining, but with the record within reach, the hosts kept to the air on their next two possessions.
As Brees sat 30 yards shy of the mark, New Orleans took over at the Atlanta 33 with 5:08 remaining. After a one-yard run by Pierre Thomas on second down, Brees moved within seven yards of Marino with two straight completions.
On second-and-goal from the nine, Brees stepped back and hit Sproles over the middle, and the diminutive playmaker spun into the end zone and into the record books along with his quarterback.
"It was a good night," Brees said. "When Sproles caught the ball, the next thing I remember is I'm getting bum-rushed by all the offensive lineman. That's when I knew we had done it."
The Saints called a timeout to honor Brees and his accomplishment, not to mention the club's second division title in three years.
Atlanta took the opening kickoff and held the ball for the first six-plus minutes before settling for a 34-yard Matt Bryant field goal.
The Saints countered with a drive half as long and twice as effective. Thomas amassed the final 24 yards on the ground, plowing into the end zone on 3-and-2 from the Atlanta four-yard line. The third-down conversion was one of 10 in 13 tries for New Orleans.
Ryan threaded a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jones later in the opening quarter, but New Orleans took control from there.
On 3rd-and-4 from the Atlanta eight, Brees threw a short pass in the flat to Colston, who dove over the goal line with 12:32 remaining in the half.
The Falcons came away with an interception in the end zone on the next Saints drive, as a pass intended for Graham went off the tight end's hands and was batted back into the field of play by William Moore and into the arms of Dominique Franks.
Brees shook off the fluke interception and led a two-minute drill before the end of the half, culminating the 80-yard march with a jump ball to Graham for a nine-yard TD.
Dunta Robinson gave the Falcons a spark by intercepting Brees off a deflection on the third play of the third quarter, but Atlanta went three-and-out and gave up a 36-yard run to Sproles following a punt.
A five-yard completion to Graham on 3rd-and-1 kept the chains moving, and Brees found Meachem in the end zone for a 24-yard score with 8:28 remaining in the third.
Bryant cut into the deficit with a 51-yard field goal a little later, but Sproles' 92-yard return on the ensuing kickoff led to John Kasay's 29-yard kick.
Another promising Falcons drive stalled in the red zone early in the fourth, with Bryant's 30-yarder pulling the visitors within 31-16 with 12:43 showing.
After a rare three-and-out by New Orleans, Saints linebacker Scott Shanle put the game away by stripping Jones after a short catch. Jenkins picked up the loose ball off a fortunate bounce and went 30 yards the other way for the game-sealing score.
Brees completed 23-of-39 throws and has a touchdown pass in 42 straight games, the second longest streak in NFL history...Graham has 10 touchdowns this season...Kasay has made 110 straight field goals inside of 30 yards... Sproles had 147 yards on kickoff returns, 67 yards on five carries and 22 yards on two receptions...Colston had team-highs of seven catches for 81 yards...The Saints took the home-and-home set with the Falcons for the fourth time in the past six seasons...Roddy White caught 11 passes for 127 yards for the Falcons, while Michael Turner carried the ball just 11 times and rushed for 39 yards.
12/27 02:10:20 ET
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