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Friday, November 30, 2012 - Page updated at 10:30 p.m.

Falcons close in on division title

By The Associated Press

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 of Brees' passes and ending his NFL-record touchdown streak in a 23-13 victory over the Saints on Thursday night.

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 big 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.

"That's the first time that's ever happened to me, so that's extremely disappointing," Brees said. "I pride myself on being a good decision-maker and not someone who will be a detriment to the game."

Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record earlier this season. Brees had an apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but it 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."

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.

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.

Notes

• The Chicago Bears ruled out return specialist and receiver Devin Hester and guard Chris Spencer for Sunday's game against Seattle. The good news for Chicago is linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte made it clear they expect to be ready after suffering ankle injuries against Minnesota. Briggs and Forte practiced on a limited basis, as did star cornerback Charles Tillman, who also left the Vikings game with an ankle injury.

Alex Smith is trying to understand how he lost his job as starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers a month after being named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Smith spoke for the first time since coach Jim Harbaugh made Colin Kaepernick the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams. "I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion," Smith said.

• Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick did not pass a league-mandated concussion test this week and will not return to practice until he does. Vick was injured Nov. 11.

• Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is practicing again for the first time since spraining his right foot a month and a half ago. Nobody's saying whether that means he will end a six-game absence Sunday night against Philadelphia.

• Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson will remain on injured reserve for the rest of the season after having surgery on his foot.

Tyrann Mathieu, an All-American cornerback nicknamed the "Honey Badger" who was kicked off the Louisiana State team before this season, will enter the 2013 NFL draft.

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