ATLANTA The Atlanta Falcons moved to the brink of clinching a division championship. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints wound up with egg on their faces.
After racing to a 17-0 lead, the Falcons turned to their defense to make it stand up, picking off five Brees passes and ending his NFL-record touchdown streak in a 23-13 victory over the Saints on Thursday.
The Falcons (11-1) will clinch the NFC South with a month to go if Tampa Bay loses at Denver on Sunday. They also dealt a blow to the Saints (5-7) and their fading playoff hopes.
William Moore had two of the five interceptions, which were the most of Brees' career and came four days after he had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.
Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record earlier this season. He had an apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but the play was nullified by a penalty.
"I didn't realize that until we walked off the field," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That's an unbelievable streak. Drew Brees is an outstanding quarterback. The way the defense played tonight speaks volumes. The guys had gone out there and thrown touchdown after touchdown game after game after game."
When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the airport, a sign of the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13. On Nov. 18, the Saints handed the Falcons their only loss of the season, 31-27 at the Superdome in New Orleans.
This time, Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, and Matt Bryant booted three field goals, including a 55-yarder.
The defense did the rest. Thomas DeCoud, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux also had interceptions for Atlanta, and another pick by Corey Peters was wiped out by a penalty.
Brees finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards. Ryan was 18 of 33 for 165 yards and no interceptions.
The defending NFC South champion Saints lost their second game in a row and will likely have to win out to have even a faint hope of making the postseason during a tumultuous year that was marred by a bounty scandal and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.