The Atlanta Falcons took another step toward winning the NFC South by knocking off the New Orleans Saints, 23-13, on Thursday night.
With the win, Atlanta is now 11-1, and with New Orleans falling to 5-7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only team with a mathematical shot at catching the Falcons.
It appeared early on that Mike Smith's team was going to run away with an easy home win.
Michael Turner scored from three yards out to cap a six-play, 80-yard opening drive before Tony Gonzalez made it 14-0 early in the second quarter with a 17-yard touchdown catch.
After Drew Brees threw his second interception of the game, Matt Bryant nailed a 45-yard field goal to push the score to 17-0.
But as it turns out, Drew Brees is, in fact, Drew Brees.
Will the Saints make the playoffs?
The veteran quarterback led an 81-yard drive that Mark Ingram finished off with a one-yard touchdown run. From there, the Saints pretty much moved the ball with ease, but bad late-first-half management, a dropped touchdown by Lance Moore, and three more interceptions—yes, five total—from Brees prevented them from fully climbing back into the game.
In the end, the Saints out-gained the Falcons 436-283 and out-converted them on third downs (New Orleans: 7-for-14; Atlanta: 1-for-10), but it wasn't enough to score more points, as Atlanta's balanced offensive attack and bend-but-don't-break defense earned it a key division win.
Maybe whoever is behind the Numbers Never Lie Twitter account jumped the gun a little bit after Drew Brees' uncharacteristically bad start. Or maybe—just maybe—they were being sarcastic with this tweet:
Drew Brees has 2 INT tonight, his 4th game w/ 2+ INT this season (T-most in the NFL). Bring on Chase Daniel!— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) November 30, 2012
Nevertheless, it unsurprisingly enraged everyone on Twitter.
Of course, the All-Pro quarterback soon came back and led a flawless touchdown drive that reminded everyone he was still pretty good. Via NFL.com's Albert Breer:
That drive was just Drew Brees making like Drew Brees. Game on.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 30, 2012
On the other side of the ball, Roddy White was busy frustrating fantasy owners everywhere. From ESPN Stats & Info:
#Falcons Roddy White: 1st time in last 78 games that he went without a 1st-half catch— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 30, 2012
He finished with just one catch for 20 yards.
The NFL on ESPN account gave us this no-nonsense tweet around the end of the third quarter:
Saints have dominated this game since mid-2nd quarter— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 30, 2012
Dominating inside the 20s is nice, but when you do things like this (via NFL.com's Dan Hanzus), it doesn't really matter:
Saints have left at least 7 points on the field with clock botch-job and TD drop by Moore.— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) November 30, 2012
After a controversial play late in the fourth quarter in which Michael Turner was held up for several seconds before being stripped of the ball, veteran official Jim Daopoulos expressed his displeasure with the (lack of a) call:
Come on guys this is forward progress!Why would they not kill the play?Unbelievable!— Jim Daopoulos (@RefereeJimD) November 30, 2012
Drew Brees didn't have a good game (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Saints QB Drew Brees: career-high 5 INT— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 30, 2012
Player of the Game: William Moore
Are we sure that cloning isn't an actual thing? Because it seemed like William Moore was pretty much everywhere all the time.
The third-year safety out of Missouri racked up 11 tackles (two for a loss), two pass deflections, a huge interception when New Orleans had the momentum, and then another interception to seal the game and give Drew Brees a career-high five picks.
The Falcons will look for their 12th win next Sunday at Carolina while New Orleans continues its run at a wild-card spot when it takes on the Giants in New York.