Final

Falcons 16

(9-6, 4-4 away)

Saints 45

(12-3, 7-0 home)

Coverage: ESPN

8:30 PM ET, December 26, 2011

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA 

1 2 3 4 T
ATL 10 0 3 316
NO 7 14 10 1445

Top Performers

Passing: M. Ryan (ATL) - 373 YDS, 1 TD

Rushing: D. Sproles (NO) - 5 CAR, 67 YDS

Receiving: J. Jones (ATL) - 8 REC, 128 YDS, 1 TD

Drew Brees sets single-season passing record as Saints clinch NFC South

ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- Quite a night for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints -- a record and a rout.

Brees set the NFL record for yards passing in a season, breaking a mark that Dan Marino had held for nearly three decades, and New Orleans clinched the NFC South title with a 45-16 victory over the Falcons.

Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, the last a 9-yard strike to Darren Sproles that set the record with 2:51 to go.

"Honestly, I was really trying not to think about the record or anything," Brees said. "I knew we were close. A couple guys mentioned stuff to me on the sideline. I didn't want to hear it. It's like a pitcher with a no-hitter, I guess."

It was Brees' final pass of the game and it gave him 5,087 yards passing -- with one game still to play. Marino finished with 5,084 yards for the Miami Dolphins in 1984.

Minutes after Brees broke the record, Marino offered congratulations on his Twitter account.

"Great job by such a special player," Marino wrote.

Brees responded in kind later, writing on his own Twitter account, "Thanks to @DanMarino for his class and support during this run. It is an honor to attempt to follow the example he set for us all."

As Sproles spiked the ball, Brees thrust his fist triumphantly in the air and started walking toward midfield while the Superdome crowd went wild and his teammates chased him down. Offensive lineman Carl Nicks was the first one to get there and tried to lift Brees onto his shoulder, but couldn't do it as teammates swarmed around.

"If I could have put him on my shoulders and paraded him around the whole stadium I would have done that. He deserves it," Nicks said. "It's like a movie, man. Just a movie ending. It's beautiful. ... You could tell by everyone's reaction after he did it how much people care about that guy. We all love him."

Brees' four touchdown passes gave him 276 for his career, moving him ahead of Joe Montana (273) and Vinny Testaverde (275) for ninth all-time. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards twice -- he had 5,069 in 2008.

Brees' first scoring pass went for 8 yards to Marques Colston and the second for 9 yards to Jimmy Graham. Graham's TD catch was his 10th of the season, a new franchise high for a tight end. In the third quarter, Brees hit Robert Meachem for a score from 24 yards, which made it 28-10.

"I love the fact that everybody could be part of this on Monday Night Football," Brees said. "There's so many people that are a part of this. It's not about me. It's about this team, it's about this city, it's about these fans. So many people contributed to this, and I'm happy for them."

The Saints also had 463 total yards, giving them more than 6,857 offensive yards for the season, breaking the 2008 club record of 6,571. New Orleans continues to close in on the NFL record of 7,075 offensive yards in a season set by the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

Brees might have broken the record in the third quarter if not for Sproles' 92-yard kickoff return, which set up John Kasay's 29-yard field goal. Brees also was intercepted twice, once in the Falcons end zone, but New Orleans was still dominant enough to take a three-score lead.

The game became a romp when Julio Jones was stripped by Scott Shanle and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 30 yards for a score to make it 38-16 in the fourth quarter. The Superdome crowd was in full celebration by then, but the play also meant fans would have to wait until later in the fourth quarter before Brees finally got his chance to break the passing record.

"Obviously, it's a special moment for the players, especially Drew," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I couldn't be more proud of him."

Atlanta, which won the NFC South last season, is headed to the playoffs as a wild card.

Uncharacteristically, Brees had only a yard passing during a span of a little more than 18 minutes. Knowing he was closing in the record, the crowd howled, "Drewwww" each time he took the field. He finally gave the fans what they wanted after Atlanta failed on a fourth-down try at its own 33. That gave Brees, who needed only 30 yards for the record at that point, just enough space to work with.

"I knew after the touchdown to Meachem that we were really close," Brees said. "I didn't know how close, but really close, and then we had a couple of those drives that stalled out and I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me' -- especially since the whole game we had been converting first downs, doing all the right things offensively, both the run and the pass, yet we couldn't put a drive together in the fourth quarter and I thought, we've got to get this ball back, we've got to go down and score and put one together."

Matt Ryan had 258 yards passing and one TD, including a 21-yard scoring strike to Jones that gave the Falcons a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.

"We didn't really play well enough in any phase of the game to give ourselves a chance to win," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, whose team came in with a chance to stay in the hunt for the division title. "There were some opportunities early on. And then it kind of got out of hand there at the end. ... It's not the type of effort that you want to have with so much on the line with what the outcome could have meant to our team."

New Orleans responded to Atlanta's first TD with a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive that put the Saints in the lead for good. Brees completed four of six passes for 48 yards, the last three to Colston, who finished with seven catches for 81 yards.

The result might have been even more lopsided if Brees' pass intended for Graham in the end zone had not been broken up by linebacker Curtis Lofton, and then batted in the air by safety William Moore before coming to rest in the arms of Dominique Franks for an interception.

New Orleans bounced back on its final drive of the second quarter, covering 80 yards in 10 plays and only 1:55, capped by Graham's TD catch.

Both teams scored on all their possessions in the opening quarter, with the Saints briefly pulling in front 7-3 on Pierre Thomas' 4-yard touchdown run, after which he pulled a bow from his uniform pants, put it on the football and offered it as a gift to a woman with a parasol in the front row behind the end zone.

The referees weren't cutting Thomas any slack on his Christmas-themed celebration, flagging him for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The score capped an eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive on which Brees completed two passes for 49 yards.

Game notes


Brees has passed for 300 yards or more an NFL-record 12 times this season. ... New England quarterback Tom Brady could pass Marino next week, too. Brady has thrown for 4,897 yards this season. ... The Saints are 7-0 at home and never have gone undefeated at home in a full season. ... The Falcons were 0-3 on attempted fourth-down conversions.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
ATL
NO
1st Downs2326
Passing 1st downs
2117
Rushing 1st downs
17
1st downs from Penalties
12
3rd down efficiency
8-1710-13
4th down efficiency
0-30-0
Total Plays7563
Total Yards469463
Yards per play6.37.3
Total Drives1210
Passing434299
Comp - Att
40-6123-39
Yards per pass
7.17.7
Interceptions thrown
02
Sacks - Yards Lost
0-01-8
Rushing35164
Rushing Attempts
1423
Yards per rush
2.57.1
Red Zone (Made-Att)0-34-6
Penalties7-574-46
Turnovers12
Fumbles lost
10
Interceptions thrown
02
Defensive / Special Teams TDs01
Possession33:1926:41

Passing Leaders

ATLC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Ryan34/523737.2100-0
Redman6/9616.8000-0
NOC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Brees23/393077.9421-8

Rushing Leaders

ATLCARYDSAVGTDLG
Turner11393.507
Rodgers1-1-1.000
NOCARYDSAVGTDLG
Sproles56713.4036
Thomas9535.9112

Receiving Leaders

ATLRECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Jones812816.014014
White1112711.502616
NORECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Colston78111.612311
Meachem37525.01415

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERATLNO
atlFG08:53Matt Bryant 34 Yd 30
noTD05:25Pierre Thomas 4 Yd Run (John Kasay Kick) 37
atlTD01:31Julio Jones 21 Yd Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick) 107
SECOND QUARTERATLNO
noTD12:32Marques Colston 8 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick) 1014
noTD00:24Jimmy Graham 9 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick) 1021
THIRD QUARTERATLNO
noTD08:28Robert Meachem 24 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick) 1028
atlFG04:41Matt Bryant 51 Yd 1328
noFG03:04John Kasay 29 Yd 1331
FOURTH QUARTERATLNO
atlFG12:43Matt Bryant 30 Yd 1631
noTD11:09Malcolm Jenkins 30 Yd Fumble Return (John Kasay Kick) 1638
noTD02:51Darren Sproles 9 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick) 1645

Research Notes

NEXT LEVEL: Drew Brees has completed 70.4 percent of his play-action passes this season, best in the NFL. Against the Falcons this season, Brees has been better, going 24 of 29 for 323 yards and three touchdowns
NEXT LEVEL: Drew Brees has completed 70.4 percent of his play-action passes this season, best in the NFL. Against the Falcons this season, Brees has been better, going 24 of 29 for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
NEXT LEVEL: Three of Drew Brees' four touchdown passes came out of 2+ running back formations Monday, as he went 12 for 17 for 153 yards. It was more of the same for Brees as he entered the game leading the NFL with 17 touchdowns out of this formation this season.
NEXT LEVEL: Only 18.3 percent of Drew Brees' pass attempts this season have traveled at least 15 yards in the air (the league average is 21.2). Entering Monday, the Saints were 3-2 when Brees' attempts of 15+ yards exceeded 20 percent. However, Brees aired it out eight times against the Falcons (20.5 percent of attempts), completing four for 126 yards.
Drew Brees was successful on third down against the Falcons on Monday, completing 8 of 9 passes for 126 yards, with seven of his completions coming on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield. Coming into this week, Brees led the league with a 71.0 completion percentage on third down.
NEXT LEVEL: Drew Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns to break Dan Marino's single-season pass yard record on Monday. Brees threw at least one touchdown each on short, intermediate and deep passes Monday. He continued his season-long trend of excelling on throws of all distances.
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