New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees set the NFL record for yards passing in a season, breaking a mark that Dan Marino had held for 27 years, as the Saints clinched the NFC South title with a 45-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday.
Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, the last a nine-yard strike to Darren Sproles that set the record with 2 minutes, 51 seconds to go.
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.
As Sproles spiked the ball, Brees put his arm over his head and started walking toward midfield while the Superdome crowd went wild and his teammates chased him down.
Brees’ four touchdowns gave him 276 for his career, moving him ahead of Joe Montana (273) and Vinny Testeverde (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.
The Saints also had 463 total yards, giving them more than 6,857 offensive yards for the season, breaking the 2008 club record. New Orleans continues to close in on the NFL-record of 7,075 offensive yards in a season set by the St Louis Rams in 2000.
New Orleans entered the game needing only one victory to clinch the NFC South title, while Atlanta could have remained in the hunt to defend last year’s division crown with a win.
After Atlanta received the opening kickoff, quarterback Matt Ryan completed five of his first six throws for 52 yards. However, the Saints’ defense stiffened, forcing Atlanta to settle for Matt Bryant’s 34-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
The Saints responded immediately, with Brees hitting Lance Moore for a 38-yard gain on New Orleans’ first play from scrimmage. The Saints then went to the running game, with Chris Ivory rushing one time for 11 yards and Pierre Thomas three times for 24 yards, including a four-yard touchdown run to make it 7-3 to the hosts.
After scoring, Thomas pulled a bow from his pants, stuck it on the football and offered it as a gift to a woman in the stands. The referees weren’t cutting Thomas any slack on his Christmas-themed celebration, flagging him for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The penalty, enforced on the ensuing kickoff, was not terribly costly, as the return only reached the Atlanta 28-yard line. More costly was the Saints’ inability to slow down Ryan, who quickly found Julio Jones for a 25-yard gain in a drive that set up another 21-yard pass to Jones to put the visitors back in front 10-7 late in the first quarter.
New Orleans responded with a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive in the second quarter on which Brees completed four of six passes for 48 yards, the last three to Marques Colston, who had six catches for 69 yards in the first half.
That eight-yard pass to Colston brought up Brees’ first touchdown pass of the game, followed by a nine-yard pass to Jimmy Graham to make it 21-10. It was Graham’s 10th touchdown reception of the season, setting a franchise record for a tight end.
In the third quarter, Brees hit Robert Meachem for a score from 24 yards, which made it 28-10.
After an exchange of field goals, the game became a romp when Julio Jones was stripped of the ball by Scott Shanle and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 30 yards for a score to make it 38-16 in the fourth quarter.