- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA -- With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Falcons’ media relations department, let’s take a by-the-numbers look back at how Atlanta defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night:
The 23-13 victory put the Falcons only a Tampa Bay loss or tie at Denver on Sunday away from clinching the NFC South title. The Falcons also can clinch a playoff berth with a loss by Seattle on Sunday.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez's first catch of the game was his 70th reception of the season. Gonzalez now has 10 straight seasons with at least 70 receptions. That ties the NFL record set by Tim Brown. Gonzalez also now has 13 seasons in which he has caught at least 70 passes, which ties him with Jerry Rice for the NFL record.
The Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening drive. They have scored an NFL-best 26 touchdowns on opening drives since the start of the 2008 season.
Ryan completed 18 of 33 passes for 165 yards. His 1,572 yards in November established a new franchise record for passing yards in a month. Steve Bartkowski set the previous record with 1,494 yards in November 1981.
The Falcons intercepted Drew Brees five times. That ties the franchise record for interceptions in a game. The last time the Falcons recorded five interceptions in a game was when they picked off Jim Hart five times in 1980.
Although Atlanta’s running game has been mediocre much of the season, the Falcons got off to a great start on the ground. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined to average 13.6 yards per rush between the tackles in the first quarter. Atlanta had 95 yards rushing between the tackles in the first quarter the third-best total by any team this season. The Falcons had averaged only 3.2 yards per carry coming into the game. The Falcons finished the game with 122 of their 126 total rushing yards (not counting kneel downs) between the tackles, after averaging only 59 yards between the tackles per game in the first 10 games.
Turner’s 3-yard touchdown run on the opening drive established a new franchise record for touchdowns. Receiver Terance Mathis had the previous record (57).
Defensive end John Abraham recorded Atlanta’s only sack and it came in a crucial spot in the fourth quarter. That gives Abraham 10 sacks on the season. He now has 10 or more sacks in seven seasons.
Abraham is the NFL’s active sack leader with 122 in his career. He now is tied with Simeon Rice for 14th place on the NFL’s all-time sack list.