NFL Nation: Saints-Falcons

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- If you look at the numbers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 422 yards Sunday. If you look at reality, it might have been one of the most meaningless 400-yard games in NFL history.

 
 Paul Abell/US Presswire
 The Atlanta defense, including linebacker Keith Brooking, center, has been a big part of the Falcons' story this season.

The fact is the Atlanta Falcons shut down the league's most prolific offense in a 34-20 victory against the Saints at the Georgia Dome.

Forget rookie quarterback Matt Ryan (248 passing yards and two touchdowns) and running back Michael Turner (97 rushing yards and a touchdown) for just a minute.

There's another reason why the 6-3 Falcons are the NFL's most surprising team. The unsung story is the defense. It, like everything else with the Falcons these days, is far better than anybody expected.

"You've just got to remember, in the end, defense wins championships. That's the bottom line,'' said veteran safety Lawyer Milloy.

As one of the few people in Atlanta with a Super Bowl ring (he won one with New England), Milloy is more than qualified to talk about the evolution of the Falcons defense.

"I like the way we're progressing as a defense,'' Milloy said.

Words like "progressing'' and "a process'' are buzzwords for the Falcons these days. Coach Mike Smith frequently talks about "the process'' and, once again on Sunday, he refused to talk about anything beyond the next game.

But the Falcons are in a playoff race and their defense is a huge part of that. What the defense did against the Saints might have been more impressive than what it did a week earlier in a shutout of the Oakland Raiders.

For most of the first half, the Falcons made Brees and the Saints look a lot like the Raiders. Brees threw for only 112 yards and was intercepted once. That gave Ryan, Turner and the rest of Atlanta's offense a chance to build a 17-6 halftime lead.

The most impressive thing was the way the Falcons did it.

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