Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/29/12
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons jumped out to a big lead and held on to bury the New Orleans Saints, 23-13, Thursday night in the Georgia Dome. Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez scored touchdowns, as the Falcons improved to an NFL-best 11-1 and crushed the Saints' slim playoff hopes. The Falcons' win snaps a four-game losing streak to their NFC South rivals. But it wasn't easy. The Falcons were dominating and led 17-0 in the second quarter, but the offense that had plowed through the Saints early disappeared. Atlanta didn't pick up a first down on five consecutive possessions, a stretch that began in the second quarter and lasted late into the third quarter. While the Falcons were struggling, Drew Brees and the Saints' offense were finding their rhythm after a slow start that saw Brees throw two of his five interceptions. New Orleans cut the lead to 17-7 at halftime and got two Garrett Hartley field goals on their first two possessions of the second half. With the way this NFC South rivalry has gone recently, the Falcons had to be thinking, 'here we go again.' The Saints had won 11 of the last 13 meetings, including 31-27 game three weeks ago in New Orleans. But the Atlanta defense stood up at key moments in the second half. William Moore made a momentum-changing interception late in the third quarter, and John Abraham had a drive-killing sack in the fourth quarter with the Saints threatening. Moore also picked off Brees with under two minutes to play. Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal with 4:25 to play was the clincher. The Falcons gashed the Saints' defense on the ground on the opening possession, with Michael Turner picking up chunks of yardage and capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 7-0 four minutes into the game. They made it 14-0 less than a minute into the second quarter on Ryan's 17-yard scoring pass to Gonzalez. Thomas DeCoud picked off Brees on a deep ball in the end zone on the Saints' first drive, and Sean Weatherspoon intercepted a poorly thrown ball in the second quarter that resulted in a Bryant 45-yard field goal and a 17-0 Falcons lead. Brees has thrown seven interceptions in his last two games, both Saints losses. Jonathan Babineaux collected the final interception, sending the Georgia Dome into euphoria. Brees finished 28-of-50 for 341 yards and ended his NFL streak of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Matt Ryan completed 18-of-33 passes for 165 yards and one 17-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez. The Saints got on the board late in the second quarter, converting on third down three times during an 11-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard Mark Ingram touchdown run. New Orleans had a chance to cut into the lead further, but had a touchdown pass to Darren Sproles nullified by penalty and then had time run out with ball on the Falcons' 1-yard line. NOTES: Running back Michael Turner tied the Falcons' franchise record for total touchdowns with his first-quarter run, his 58th with Atlanta. ... 70,564 tickets were distributed for the game. ... Falcons CB Asante Samuel, who was a game-time decision to play, injured his shoulder in the first quarter and did not return. ... The Saints had won 14 consecutive home games in November, before last week's loss to San Francisco. ... The Falcons are at Carolina next week, while the Saints head to New York to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.
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