NEW ORLEANS - With a chance to break Dan Marino's all-time single season and win his third NFC South division championship with the New Orleans Saints, the pressure was on Drew Brees as he took the national stage Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
And though Brees was not his usual flawless self in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Monday night, he still managed to lead his team to a dominating 45-16 victory over the Falcons and break the record in the waning moments of the game.
The Saints All-Pro quarterback finished the night with 23 completions on 39 attempts for 307 yards and four touchdowns. He did add two interceptions, the first time he has turned the ball over since a Nov. 6 game against the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Brees thrust himself into the NFL record book in dramatic fashion, completing a nine-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles with just under three minutes left in the game to bring his season yardage total to 5,086, two yards more than Dan Marino threw for in 1984.
Earlier in the night Brees went over 5,000 yards for the second time in his career, an accomplishment unmatched in NFL history.
"You do have to enjoy these kind of things because they are rare," Brees said after the game.
"When a guy like that suceeds...you feel like you're the one making the passes," Saints guard Carl Nicks said after the game.
Brees spread the wealth between his receivers on his record-breaking night, completing at least two passes to seven different receivers. Marques Colston led the pack with seven receptions for 81 yards.
Tight end Jimmy Graham moved closer to the all-time record for receiving yards by a tight end, held by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. He had four receptions for 42 yards on the night.
"I dreamed about this," Graham said.
Graham also praised Brees effusively and promised to retire when Brees does the same.
"He's made me into a man," Graham said.
The Saints outrushed Atlanta 164 to 35 on the night, with Darren Sproles leading the way with 67 yards on five carries. Pierre Thomas added 53 on nine carries while Chris Ivory had 35 yards on eight carries.
Dangerous Falcons halfback Michael Turner was held to 39 yards on 11 carries.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan put up big numbers, completing 34 passes on 52 attempts for 373 yards and a touchdown, but was also under pressure from the Saints in the second half.
Rookie wideout Julio Jones caught eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown while Roddy White caught 11 balls for 127 yards.
The Falcons moved the ball effectively on the game's opening drive, mixing the pass and the run and taking just over six minutes off the clock. The Saints did manage to stop the drive once the Falcons reached the redzone, forcing Matt Bryant to try a 34 yard field goal, which he made.
But the Saints offense came roaring out of the gate, chewing up 84 plays in about half the time it took Atlanta to reach their redzone. The Saints ran the ball with extreme efficiency on the drive, which culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas. Brees also passed for 50 yards on the drive.
Atlanta responded quickly, however, going 72 yards in just under four minutes and retaking the lead with a 21-yard touchdown connection between Ryan and rookie wideout Julio Jones.
Brees would not be outdone: he drove the Saints 81 yards and capped another blazing fast drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Colston, which tied him with Joe Montana on the all-time NFL touchdown passes list at 273.
The first stop of the game came from the Saints defense and the offense made their way back to the Atlanta redzone, but a Brees pass intended for Graham was deflected in the endzone and intercepted by Dominique Franks.
Atlanta was unable to move the ball past the 50, which gave Brees another chance with 2:19 left in the half. Brees deftly avoided rushers, fired the ball to all points on the field and led the Saints on their third 80 yard scoring drive, culminating in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Graham, increasing the Saints lead to 11 at the half.
Brees eclipsed 5,000 yards on the season before the break, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to pass the mark in more than one season.
The Saints opened the second half with the ball, but Brees gave it away early in the drive when a long pass intended for Robert Meachem was intercepted by Dunta Robinson.
But another stop gave Brees the opportunity to redeem himself, and with the help of a 36-run by Darren Sproles and some punishing running by Thomas and Chris Ivory, he did ust that, completing a 24-yard touchdown pass to Meachem to cap an 86 yard drive.
The Falcons finally began moving the ball again, but their drive stalled just outside the Saints 30-yard line and Bryant booted through a 51-yard field goal to reduce the Saints lead to 15.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sproles took the ball midway through his own endzone and took it all the way to the Falcons 14, a 92 yard return. The Saints moved the ball only three yards from there, though, and were forced to settle for a 29-yard John Kasay field goal, which sailed through the uprights with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons engineered a 16-play drive which ended in yet another 30-yard Bryant field goal, which left the Falcons down by 15 with 12:43 left in the game.
The Saints first three and out and punt both came on the next drive, and Morstead booted one out of bounds at the Atlanta 27 with 11:20 left in the game.
But on the first play of the drive, Julio Jones was stripped by Scott Shanle and Malcolm Jenkins picked up the bouncing loose ball and took it 30 yards for a Saints touchdown to put the game out of reach.
With time waning, the Falcons had one last chance to make it game with the ball inside the Saints 10 with just over eight minutes left in the game, but they failed to convert a 4th and 1.
After one failed drive, the Saints got the ball back and head coach Sean Payton was determined to give Brees his chance at the record. Four straight passes were called on the drive after the game was essentially decided, and Brees completed three of them to attain the needed yardage.
Payton explained his decision to call the plays in his post-game press conference.
"We have a ton of respect for Mike [Smith], his staff and the players we played against," Payton said of his decision to call the passes with the game decided.
"I thought it was appropriate, and we did it."
The win gave the Saints their third NFC South division title under Sean Payton. Before his tenure began, the Saints had won two division titles in their previous 39 years of existence.
It also kept alive the possibility of earning the No. 2 seed in the upcoming playoffs. If the Saints were to beat Carolina next week and the St. Louis Rams upset the San Fransisco 49ers, the Saints could take the spot.
Payton said he would approach the game in a similar manner as he did last year's finale against the Tampa Bay Bucs, where the Saints needed an Atlanta loss to those same Rams to give them something to play for.
"We'll figure out what we're going to do and tell you guys the opposite," Payton joked.
Payton gave his players a history lesson prior to the game about Marino's record-breaking year, his second in the NFL, which also resulted in a Super Bowl apperance for the Dolphins.
"To understand how great of a player he was gives us an appreciation of how great Drew Brees is," Payton said.
Brees said he felt emotional before the game after hearing a young fan tell him he was here to see him break the record. He thanked every member of the organization and the fan base for their support.
"I think we made a lot of people happy tonight," Brees said.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints â— Monday, December 26, 2011
Saints Postgame Notes
Mondayâ€™s victory improved the Saintsâ€™ record to 12-3 and clinched the NFC South title. It is the fifth division title in franchise history (NFC West, 1991 and 2000; NFC South, 2006 and 2009).
As the division champ, the Saints will either be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Saints need a win over Carolina on Sunday and a San Francisco loss at St. Louis to earn the No. 2 seed and a bye into the divisional round.
The Saints improved to 7-0 at home for the first time in franchise history. Itâ€™s the first time the Saints have won seven home games in a season.
The Saints had 463 total yards Monday night and set a franchise single-season record with 6,857 total yards, breaking the mark of 6,571 set in 2009. New Orleans needs 219 yards against Carolina on Sunday to break the NFL record of 7,075 set by the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
With 26 first downs against the Falcons, the Saints extended their franchise single-season record total to 383. New Orleans needs 16 first downs against Carolina to break the NFL single-season record of 398 set by the 2004 Kansas City Chiefs.
TE Jimmy Graham became the Saintsâ€™ single-season leader in touchdown catches by a tight end with his 9-yard TD reception late in the second quarter. Grahamâ€™s 10th TD catch of the year broke a tie with Henry Childs for the most in a season by a Saints tight end.
Graham, who had four receptions for 42 yards, now has 91 receptions for 1,213 yards, the fifth-highest single-season yardage total for a tight end in NFL history. He is 77 yards behind record holder Kellen Winslow (1980 Chargers), but also trails New Englandâ€™s Rob Gronkowski by six yards going into Week 17.
WR Marques Colston led the Saints with seven receptions for 81 yards and is on the cusp of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in six seasons as a Saint. Colston goes into Week 17 with 998 receiving yards.
WR Robert Meachemâ€™s third-quarter 24-yard TD reception was the 23rd of his career, moving him into a tie with Donteâ€™ Stallworth for eighth place on the franchiseâ€™s career list for receiving TDs.
RB Pierre Thomas capped the Saintsâ€™ first offensive drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. It was the 23rd TD run of Thomasâ€™ career, moving him into a tie for fifth place on the Saintsâ€™ all-time list with George Rogers and Rueben Mayes.
RB Darren Sprolesâ€™ 36-yard run in the third quarter was the longest rushing play of the season for the Saints.
Later in the third quarter, Sproles broke a 92-yard kickoff return (from six yards deep in the end zone to the Falcons 14). Though no official record is in the Saintsâ€™ record book, it appears to be the longest non-TD kickoff return in franchise history. The Saints have had three 88-yard returns not go for touchdowns â€“ the most recent in 2008 by Pierre Thomas, also at home against the Falcons.
Sproles had two receptions, including the 9-yard TD catch to allow Drew Brees to break the NFL single-season passing yardage record, to improve his season total to 81. According to the NFL, Graham and Sproles are the first tight end/running back combination in NFL history with at least 80 receptions each.
S Malcolm Jenkinsâ€™ 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the Saintsâ€™ second defensive touchdown of the season. Jonathan Vilma had a fumble recovery in the end zone at St. Louis.
Jenkinsâ€™ TD was the second of his career. He returned an interception 96 yards for a score last season against the Rams.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints â— Monday, December 26, 2011
Drew Brees Postgame Notes/Quick Quotes
Saints QB Drew Brees broke the 27-year-old NFL record for passing yards in a season on a 9-yard touchdown pass to RB Darren Sproles with 2:51 remaining in the game. Brees has 5,087 yards passing this season, three more than Dan Marino had in 1984.
On Monday, Brees completed 23 of 39 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. It is Breesâ€™ 12th 300-yard passing game of the season, extending his own NFL record, and his 49th in six seasons as a Saint.
On a 2-yard pass to WR Marques Colston in the second quarter, Brees surpassed 5,000 yards passing for the season. It marked the third time in NFL history a passer has topped the 5,000-yard mark and the first time in league history one quarterback has topped 5,000 twice.
On the play prior to the record-setter, Brees surpassed his career best and franchise mark of 5,069 yards.
Brees passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas for 12th place on NFL career passing yards list. Unitas passed for 40,239 yards in his career. Brees, who now has 40,353, entered Monday night 193 yards behind Unitas.
Brees threw four TD passes to improve his season total to 41 and become the first Saint and seventh quarterback in NFL history to top the 40-TD mark in a season.
While Brees passed Unitas on the career yardage list, he is still on a quest to pass perhaps Unitasâ€™ most revered career mark â€“ 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. With his first TD pass Monday night, Brees extended his streak to 42, second-longest in NFL history.
Brees finished with a passer rating of 96.8, the first time in seven games he has not had a passer rating of 100 or better. He has reached the century mark in passer rating 10 times this season.
Brees also extended his NFL-record streak of games with 20 or more completions to 34.
Quick Quotes from Brees (from ESPN on-field interview)
â€œI knew after the TD to Meachem we were really close. We had a couple of those drives that really stalled out. We couldnâ€™t put a drive together. (Iâ€™m thinking) if it happens, it happens, but we wanted to finish strong in the fourth quarter.
(on two sons) They were home sleeping, but they may have felt the reverberation in the Superdome.
â€œSo many people contributed to this, and Iâ€™m happy for them.â€
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS COACH SEAN PAYTON
â€œObviously, itâ€™s a big win and a special night for us with all of it kind of culminating in one game. As a team, you set out with one of your first goals to win the division every year and we felt like we were playing a real good team. Weâ€™ve had a lot of good games against those guys and we have a ton of respect for them. We made the plays, I though third down in the first half was significant, the turnover in the second half that led to a score by Malcolm (Jenkins) was significant. Those are just some things that stick out.
â€œI think lost in this often times, the record that was broken, Dan Marino was drafted in 1983, in 1984 he set this record. His team was 14-2 that year and they won the AFC East. It was his second year in the league and they went on to the Superbowl that year and lost to the 49ers. I was just playing college football at that time, but over the years when you watch tape, watch him play, he was an amazing player. I told our players I think itâ€™s important we understand and recognize the history of our league. This is a guy that had staying power; a lot of guys were drafted before him. To understand how good a player he was gives us a great appreciation as to how good Drew Brees is. Obviously, itâ€™s a special moment for the players and especially for Drew and his family. I couldnâ€™t be more proud of him.â€
â€œSomeone is going to ask this question so I am going to answer it before itâ€™s asked. Typically, would I be throwing there? The answer would be probably now. In fact, the answer is â€˜I wouldnâ€™t be,â€ but I thought it was appropriate to get (the record) and we did it. He (Brees) made enough good decisions in the drive to eclipse the mark. We kind of stalled out a few drives earlier, but it was a big win. It was a big win for our team and our organization. It is a special night.â€
(On if he thought it was important for Drew Brees to get this record on MNF) â€œWe tried very hard focusing on the game. Thereâ€™s been a lot of attention with this record, and understandably so. Tonight, there was a lot of stake in this game. Having that balance of understanding that, Iâ€™m not going to say this was a must-win for us, but it was an important win for us to secured the division and get on to the next step. I just thought we got to that point in the game where we were 30 yards out. We have a ton of respect for Mike (Smith), his staff and the players we just played against. It seemed like the right thing. As a coach a lot of times you trust your gut and you either get complimented or criticized and you go from there. I felt real good about the decision.â€
(On if as a coach itâ€™s the ultimate prize having one of your players break a record) â€œI think really the most important thing is winning Super Bowls. And I think Drew (Brees) and every other player in that locker room would say the same thing. The most important thing we can do is play for an opportunity to win the Lombardi Trophy. And then start piecing things in below, but there is nothing that goes past that. Weâ€™ve been fortunate enough to have done that once. Once youâ€™ve had that opportunity, you realize how hard it is, how difficult it is, how special it is. As a coach, we love to see our players have success, go to Pro Bowls, win awards and break records. Itâ€™s very similar to a teacher turning back tests that have Aâ€™s on them. That is probably one of the reasons we coach, long before we ever got into this league, we like teaching, trying to help others, so when you have someone like Drew Brees and you have an opportunity in your career, and I recognize that a lot of coaches go through this and never have a chance to work with someone like him (Brees). For me, as a young coach, to work with someone like that, I heard his comments during the week and I would really ditto those comments about him inspiring and motivating me and our staff the same way. Itâ€™s been a great fit, and thereâ€™s a lot still to be written. Itâ€™s a special night.â€
QB #9 DREW BREES
â€œIt feels great to be division champs. It feels great to do what we just did on Monday night with the world watching. This game couldnâ€™t be more important than it was. Our hopes and aspirations of winning the division championships and getting the (No.) 2 seed â€“ the next step was winning the division. It was a good night.
(on record) â€œYou know, I did everything I could this week to prepare, focus on the process. All anybody wanted to do was talk about it. I wanted to come out here and think about good decision-making. It was after the touchdown to Meachem in the third quarter, Iâ€™m walking on the sideline and I hear somebody say, â€˜Youâ€™re really close.â€™ I was thinking it was like jinxing a no-hitter.
â€œI didnâ€™t know exactly what the number was. I knew we were close. We really wanted to finish strong because we hadnâ€™t done anything in the fourth quarter. We got to the 9 and I figured we were close. I throw it to Sprolesy and the next thing you know, Iâ€™m getting bum-rushed. I did not see anything other than my linemenâ€™s face masks.
â€œSomebody brought me the ball and held on to that tightly. I wanted to have time for everybody (after the record). I wanted everyone to know how much I appreciate them.
â€œYes, it was special. I was just thinking catch the ball, continue the drive and if he scores, then great. Iâ€™m not thinking that we are nine yards from the record. I was just focused on execution. I guess it all registered once the guys picked me up.â€
â€œItâ€™s like a pitcher with a no-hitter. Donâ€™t talk to him, leave him alone. All I wanted to do was just play, just play, operate, think about execution, good decision-making all those things. The last thing you want is to know that youâ€™re a certain amount of yardage away and have that influence your decision-making. For me, I knew that if we just kept going on the pace we were going, we were going to break that record. I was really trying to just narrow down and focus on each play at a time. Itâ€™s difficult when you have that limit out there.â€
â€œI know Dan Marino broke this record on Monday Night Football. When I look at this game at the beginning of the season, I wasnâ€™t going to think it was the night we were going to break the record. I was thinking I hope thereâ€™s a lot at stake in that game for both teams. Weâ€™re rolling, theyâ€™re rolling. I assume thatâ€™s why they schedule that game at that time. Little did I know that there would be a number of storylines for that one, a divisional championship on the line, playoff seeding and then the record. I guess it could have happened any other way. It was perfect, it was suspenseful, for sure we had a lot of people on the edge of their seat, people at home, people tuned in on the radio, in the stands trying to figure out how close we were. We did it.â€
(on coming close in 2008) â€œYes, we did, because we did get so close last time in 2008, because we were 15 yards away. That was another one of those times where we didnâ€™t know how close we were, maybe kind of didnâ€™t wish I knew how close we were, but this time around, the fact that we were doing the 15th game of the season and not the 16th game, you kind of feel like letâ€™s not put added pressure on ourselves here. We all want this very badly, but itâ€™s all about winning. We just focus on that. The other things will take care of itself.â€
(trying to set record tonight?) â€œYes and I hope Mike Smith knows that. We werenâ€™t trying to run up the score or anything. Our mentality was we had played poorly in the fourth quarter offensively. We had three drives, three, three and outs. We wanted to end the game on a high note and put together a drive. I donâ€™t think it was so much about scoring a touchdown, it was about getting something going and feeling good about ourselves and finishing and then you throw the record in there. Maybe that was big enough reason to throw it.â€
(reflecting on record) â€œItâ€™s been only an hour, so I donâ€™t have a whole lot of time for reflection other than just being with my teammates, my family there. Iâ€™m sure at the end of the season, Iâ€™ll be able to reflect quite a bit. For now, I just feel like thereâ€™s still so much left to be done. I do believe that life is too short, you do have to enjoy these things because theyâ€™re rare. You just donâ€™t know how often theyâ€™re going to come around and Iâ€™m never going to take it granted for one second. Iâ€™ll make sure that those who were a part of this know how special they are and how important they are in this, but the journeyâ€™s not over, not even close. We still have a long way to go, but this is pretty special.
(on record-setting play) â€œI was just thinking, complete this ball, keep the drive alive. He scores, great. Iâ€™m not thinking I need one more completion or â€˜xâ€™ amount of yards for the record. Iâ€™m really just focused on execution, but he scored. I guess it all registered when the guys picked me up, Iâ€™m thinking a touchdown to Sprolesie.â€
(on Dan Marino) â€œHe was one of the best of all time. Growing up in Texas, I was a Cowboy fan. That was during his heyday. The record he set was in his second year in the NFL. Dan was a guy in the â€™83 draft. Iâ€™m not sure which number quarterback he was drafted, but I know he was down the list a little bit. He was a guy who had a lot of grit. He proved a lot of people wrong along the way. He will forever be one of the greatest players in this league. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks, competitors and leaders. Itâ€™s been an honor to have been close to his mark.â€
â€œI was just trying to narrow down and focus on each play.
â€œI could tell by their reaction and emotion that they were more excited than I was. They made me talk in the locker room after the game. They forced me to speak. This record isnâ€™t about one person. There may just be one person that goes on the ledger, but itâ€™s really about the team. I want every man years from now, hopefully a lot of championships from now, to be able to look back and say I blocked for that guy when it happened or a guy on defense say that they had a big stop that gave the ball back to those guys. I want a receiver to say that they caught 50 balls that year for 600 yards. I want everyone to feel like they were a huge part of this. I want them to know that this record would not have been possible without them.
I want everybody to feel they were a huge part of this. The offensive linemen, the backs, the receivers, the equipment managers, the trainers, Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, (the media). This really is a team, a family record. This isnâ€™t one guy, because I certainly wouldnâ€™t be standing here if it werenâ€™t for those men.â€
â€œI guess I didnâ€™t think about that. Thatâ€™s pretty cool. I kind of got emotional before this game. There was a kid as I was signing autographs who said, â€˜Iâ€™m here to see you break the record.â€™ He said it a few times. It made me think of when I was a kid. You had all of these hopes and dreams that you would be out there on that field. Hearing him say that brought me back down. It got me thinking about how lucky are we to get to do what we doand all of the joy it brings to other people. It makes me feel good that we made a lot of people happy tonight.â€
â€œI try to take a humble approach. Itâ€™s maybe a quiet confidence. I hoped it would happen out there. I couldnâ€™t have imagined it would happen the way it did. I guess it was all meant to be.â€
â€œMy oldest, Baylen, turns 3 in January. He watches football with me. He says â€˜dad are you out there?â€™ and I say â€˜No.â€™ He says, â€˜dad plays football for the Saints,â€™ and I say â€˜yeah.â€™ He asks if I wear a fleur de lis and I say â€˜yeah.â€™ Who Dat? Yeah. Years from now, thatâ€™s something I hope my boys can look back on and say, â€˜Iâ€™m proud of my dad.â€™ He says he wants to be Jimmy Graham. Itâ€™s awesome. I tell Jimmy that all of the time. I say â€˜whoâ€™s #80?â€™ and he says â€˜Iâ€™m Jimmy Graham.â€™ Iâ€™ll adopt Jimmy anytime. I hope that years from now that my boys they are proud of their dad.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t thought that far. I donâ€™t know. I wish I had 150 of them to give out to the team and everybody in the building. I guess we could cut it up. I donâ€™t know. I guess the ball itself is not as important to me as the memory, â€˜cause thatâ€™s something that will live forever.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be asking the questions to some young punk 30 years from now asking him why he broke my record.â€
WR #12 MARQUES COLSTON
â€œIt was a big deal for Drew, but it was a bigger deal for us, the wide receivers and tight ends, to help him go out and get the record.
â€œI donâ€™t think it was something that was really on our minds, but to be able to do it against a team like the Falcons and on Monday night was special.
â€œHeâ€™s all about winning. Iâ€™m just glad it came with a win.
â€œWe knew it was going to come if we just kept playing our game. We just had to be patient and play our game.
â€œIâ€™m a football fan, so I know a little bit. To break a record thatâ€™s been around since â€™84 â€“ I was only 1 year old. Itâ€™s great to be a part of it.
â€œIt all starts with (Brees). Heâ€™s been phenomenal all year. We had some hiccups, but since (November), this trainâ€™s been rolling. Hopefully our best is ahead of us.
WR #17 ROBERT MEACHEM
(on doing this for Drew Brees) â€œYes, this is for him. This is for us as well. I am happy for him, proud of him, because he deserves it.â€
(on the celebration) â€œIt was kind of nervous. You wanted to go on the field, but you look at Coach Payton. We wanted to go celebrate with him, because he deserves it.â€
(on a sense of urgency when the offense stalled) â€œThere wasnâ€™t really a sense of urgency. Nobody was talking about the record. We just said that we have to move the ball. We want to win. Coming in to this week, all of you guys talked about the record. We never talked about it.â€
TE #80 JIMMY GRAHAM
(on returning the record-setting football to Brees) â€œThatâ€™s all I could think about. Sproles spiked it and I saw it go up about twenty feet. I thought it was going to go in the stands. I was thinking to myself, how am I going to jump up in to the stands. Iâ€™m sure that somebody might wrestle me to get it. I think I was going to win that one. It is a special moment. It is incredible to be a part of something so special. I will never forget about it. It has been an incredible night. To be a champion, itâ€™s pretty cool. Iâ€™m speechless.â€
(on where he would be with Brees) â€œIâ€™d be overseas playing basketball. Thatâ€™s for sure. I told Drew, whenever he decides to retire, I will retire. I will never play with another quarterback as long as I am in the NFL. He has really made me a man. I look up to him like an older brother. He stays on me. He gives me the confidence I need. It really has been an incredible year. â€
â€œI am all for keeping him here as long as we can. He only makes me look better. I know I wouldnâ€™t even be half of the player I am without him.â€
(on approaching Kellen Winslowâ€™s record) â€œI dreamed about it. I had many dreams about seasons like this and moments like today. I am sure moments like we are going to have the rest of the season. To clinch the division tonight, on a special night that Drew has, I am living the dream. Every day, I just have to pinch myself because I am living this life. I am a star tight end in the National Football League.â€
G #77 CARL NICKS
â€œThe last time we played them, they pretty much gave it to us as far as running the ball. I just think we got after them a little more physical tonight.
(on record setting play) â€œIt was crazy. Sproles scored. I looked down for a split-second and ran to Drew like he scored. The Super Bowl was the best, but this and the NFC Championship are right there.
â€œItâ€™s like a movie ending, and thereâ€™s a long ways for us to go.
(on Drew Brees) â€œIf they made a movie, Tom Cruise, I donâ€™t know if he could play him. Heâ€™s out of this world. Probably one of the best guys I know, period. If I could have put him on my shoulders and paraded him around the whole stadium, I would have done that. He deserves that. â€œIf you didnâ€™t do anything but watch him, youâ€™re going to be better. Iâ€™ve learned a lot from him.â€
S #27 MALCOLM JENKINS
â€œWeâ€™ve done a great job stopping the run the last couple of weeks and that was the goal this week. We did a great job of stopping the run and forcing them to pass in some situations.
â€œYou look at the (recent) history of this series â€“ three points, overtime. We talked about it last night that it doesnâ€™t have to be that close.
ATLANTA FALCONS COACH MIKE SMITH
â€œWe are obviously are disappointed in the way that we played in the ballgame tonight. We didnâ€™t really play well enough in any phase of the game to give ourselves a chance to win. We didnâ€™t make enough plays. There were some opportunities early on and then it kind of got out of hand there at the end.
(on major issues) â€œWe were 0-for-3 in the red zone. We didnâ€™t score touchdowns when we got down there. We really had a tough time in the first half of the ball game stopping them on third down. They were eight for eight on third down, and we had some very favorable down and distancesâ€¦third and 8, third and 10, third and 12, third and 13, and we werenâ€™t able to get them off of the field. That was really the thing that happened there in the first half. I thought that special teams played well through the first 30 minutes. In the second half of the ball game, they broke the real long kickoff return with (Darren) Sproles when they ran it down to the 13 yard line. Thatâ€™s kind of where it got out of hand.
(on penalties) â€œWe had way too many penalties. The penalties were very lopsided, in terms of the penalties committed against our team. Some of them happened in the red zone, and that knocked us behind the sticks early in the ball game as well.
(on not having much pressure on Drew Brees tonight) â€œWe had some opportunities to get him on the ground there twice in the first half and he was able to get out. If you donâ€™t get pressure and affect Drew, heâ€™s going to make the throws. Thatâ€™s what he did today.
(on Drew Breesâ€™ record-breaking performance) â€œDrew Brees has had an outstanding season in terms of the number of yards that he has thrown for. My hatâ€™s off to Drew. I congratulate him. Thatâ€™s a long-time record here in the NFL. He accomplished that tonight against us.â€
(on the loss) â€œWe were not on the top of our game in any phase in terms of our football team in my mind. We just didnâ€™t play very consistently. Itâ€™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 football team.â€
ATLANTA FALCONS PLAYERS
QB #2 MATT RYAN
â€œWe have to get a lot better in the red zone. We needed a lot more touchdowns than the field goals we got out there. For some reason we just didnâ€™t play our best football tonight. All we can do now is have a great week of practice and get ready to play Tampa next week and then get ready for the playoffs after that.â€
(on Drew Breesâ€™ record) â€œIâ€™m really happy for Drew. Heâ€™s a great guy and a tremendous competitor and someone who works really hard to achieve what he did tonight. Heâ€™s really dedicated himself to play the position at a high level and what he did tonight is really well deserved. And watching what happened at the end of the game was really exciting. He obviously is re-writing the record book and I am really excited for him.â€
DE #55 JOHN ABRAHAM
â€œThe main word tonight was missed opportunities. Thatâ€™s what this game was all about. On the defensive end we dropped a few balls we should have had and I even missed a sack or two that couldâ€™ve made a difference.
â€œI donâ€™t know why we came out a little sluggish but we did. And in the end they got the momentum and held onto it. When their offense and a guy like Drew Brees gets on a roll, itâ€™s a real hard thing to stop. I mean he was hot today and on fire. But I still thought we did a great job of breaking up a few passes. Like I said we should have had more interceptions and thatâ€™s what I mean about us leaving a lot out there.â€
S #28 THOMAS DeCOUD
â€œWe have a lot more expectations than just getting into the playoffs. We have a goal as a team to get into the playoffs and make a deep run and not just be satisfied with making the playoffs.
â€œWe are looking forward to possibly playing them (Saints) a third time. We are aware of where we stand and nothing would be better than to return down here and take a final shot at them.â€
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