ATLANTA – As the seconds wound down toward the end of the most devastating two-game punch New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had ever suffered, he paced the sideline; helmet still on, his eyes still on the field.
And when the clock hit zero of a 23-13 defeat to the Falcons, Brees ran.
After a couple of brief congratulatory hand-slaps, Brees ran through the tunnel at the northwest corner of the Georgia Dome, the first Saint to leave the field. He ran under the sign that read THE SAINTS AIN'T ALL DAT. He ran through the traffic jam of moving trucks wedged in the Dome's tunnels. He ran past the black-and-gold-spangles of several female Saints fans. He ran to the door of Locker Room 2 and disappeared inside.
But he couldn't outrun this mess of a game. He couldn't outrun his five interceptions. He couldn't outrun the end of a 54-game touchdown streak. And he couldn't outrun the train wreck of a play sequence at the end of the first half, one that saw New Orleans stall out on Atlanta's 3-yard line and miss out on any chance to cut into a 10-point Falcons lead.
Brees met the media in a full suit, and he met the questions head-on. "I have made some critical mistakes in the last few weeks," he said, "and they have cost us dearly."
After throwing two pick sixes against San Francisco just four days ago, Brees came to Atlanta with the expectation of perpetuating New Orleans' near-total mastery of the Falcons, 11 wins over the previous 13 games.
"I felt as good coming into this game as I've felt all season," he said. "About the passing game, about our plan, about the scheme."
Instead, Brees suffered through his first-ever five-interception game. He lost track of the clock at the end of the first half. And he failed to throw for a touchdown for the first time since 2009.
"Records are made to be broken, made to come to an end," he said, then nodded in the direction of the locker room. "Everyone in there was a part of [the touchdown record]. So it's tough to see it end."
If this wasn't a must-win game for New Orleans, it would do until one came along. The Saints now sit a game and a half out of the final playoff spot with the rest of the league yet to play. Five other teams – the Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins – are all in the race for that same sixth spot, so it's likely New Orleans has to win at least three, and probably all, of its final four to have a shot at the postseason.
In all likelihood, barring a playoff run, Brees has seen the last of the Falcons for this year. Even so, he continued to stoke the ever-growing rivalry. Earlier in the week, he'd reiterated that despite a then five-game difference in their records, he felt the Saints still owned the NFC South. When asked if their positions in the division had switched, Brees offered his first, and only, smile of the night.
"No," he said. "We feel like we're at the top of this division. Unfortunately this year we haven't played to the best of our ability. But we still have that confidence and that pride."
From this question, at least, there would be no running.
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