Rapid Reaction: Saints 45, Falcons 16

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
11:48
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 45-16 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: The Saints (12-3) clinched the NFC South, which means they’ll be one of the top four seeds in the playoffs. They still have a shot at going as high as the No. 2 seed, but they’ll need to win their finale and hope San Francisco loses. The Falcons (9-6) already are in the playoffs, but now they can’t do any better than the No. 5 seed. Also, New Orleans’ victory means that, once again, no team has won the NFC South in consecutive years since the division came into existence in 2002.

Record time: With two minutes and 51 seconds left in the game, Drew Brees made history. With a touchdown pass to Darren Sproles, Brees broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season. Marino had 5,084 yards in 1984. Brees came into the game needing 305 yards to break the record. He finished with 307 yards. Brees also threw four touchdown passes.

The Sproles factor: I might be overlooking someone, but I don’t think I’m too far off in saying Sproles was the best free-agent signing in the NFL this year. Sproles has made huge contributions as a runner, receiver and a return man. Early this season, I still saw some fans wearing Reggie Bush jerseys. I don’t think I’ve seen one in a couple of months.

The great debate: After watching the Saints absolutely dominate what had been a good Atlanta team for the past month or so, I think it’s fair to start talking about how the Saints match up with the Green Bay Packers. Remember, the Saints took the Packers down to the wire in the season opener at Lambeau Field. I know for certain the Saints are a better team now than they were in September. Yeah, you can bring San Francisco into the argument too, but that kind of waters things down. The Saints and Packers play great offense and a postseason game between them would be as exciting a game as you could ask for.

What I didn't like: From an Atlanta perspective, the way the Falcons lost this game had to be demoralizing. The Falcons had seemed to be on a roll in recent weeks. They’re already in the playoffs and they should have an easy finale. But the momentum Atlanta had built over the past month or so has been shattered. If they somehow end up facing the Saints again in the playoffs, that’s not a good psychological matchup. The Saints have defeated the Falcons twice already and that’s got to be in the heads of the Atlanta players.

What's next: The Saints host the Carolina Panthers in the regular-season finale on Sunday. The Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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