ATLANTA – 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’ playoff hopes.
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 as 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 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.”
Brees had two previous games with four interceptions. … This was Brees’ lowest-rated game since joining the Saints in 2006. … Lance Moore of the Saints hauled in 11 passes for 123 yards.