Brees Breaks Marino’s Single-Season Passing Mark

Brees had 307 yards and 4 touchdown passes, the last a 9-yard strike to Darren Sproles that set the record with 2 minutes 51 seconds remaining.

It was Brees’s final pass of the game, and it gave him 5,087 yards this season — with one game still to play. 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’s four touchdown passes gave him 276 for his career, moving him ahead of Joe Montana (273) and Vinny Testaverde (275) for ninth all time. He is the first quarterback in N.F.L. history to pass for more than 5,000 yards twice; he had 5,069 in 2008, falling 15 short of Marino’s mark.

Brees’s first scoring pass went for 8 yards to Marques Colston and the second for 9 yards to Jimmy Graham. In the third quarter, Brees hit Robert Meachem for a score from 24 yards, giving New Orleans a 28-10 lead.

The Saints also had 463 total yards, giving them 6,857 for the season and breaking the 2008 club record of 6,571. New Orleans continues to close in on the league record of 7,075 offensive yards in a season, set by the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

Brees might have broken the record in the third quarter if not for Sproles’s 92-yard kickoff return, which set up John Kasay’s 29-yard field goal. Brees also was intercepted twice, once in the Falcons end zone, but New Orleans was still dominant enough to take a comfortable lead.

The game became a romp when Julio Jones was stripped by Scott Shanle and Malcolm Jenkins returned the ball 30 yards for a score to make it 38-16 in the fourth quarter. The Superdome crowd was in full celebration by then, but the play also meant fans would have to wait until later in the fourth quarter before Brees would get another chance to break Marino’s record.

PETERSON MAY RETURN SOONER The Minnesota Vikings revised their timetable for running back Adrian Peterson’s recovery from left knee surgery, saying they think he will be ready to start the 2012 season.

Peterson will have surgery in 7 to 10 days for torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, said Eric Sugarman, the Vikings’ head trainer.

Peterson was hurt Saturday against the Washington Redskins. The Vikings originally said they did not expect Peterson, who was signed to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension before the first week of the season, to be ready for the start of the next season. (AP)

JAGUARS LOSE TWO MORE Jacksonville placed cornerback Ashton Youboty (hamstring) and defensive end Matt Roth (concussion) on injured reserve, giving it a league-high 31 players on the list.

Ten of the season-ending injuries have been in the secondary. (AP)

TICKET PUSH IN CINCINNATI The Cincinnati Bengals made a buy-one, get-one-free offer to season-ticket holders for the final regular-season game Sunday in an effort to fill Paul Brown Stadium for a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati (9-6) can clinch a wild-card playoff berth by beating Baltimore (11-4). The challenge is to fill the 65,500-seat stadium, which has been one-third empty for most games this season.

The Bengals have sold out one home game, when Pittsburgh visited. Cincinnati sold 41,273 tickets for a victory over Arizona on Saturday. (AP)

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Throws 3 TDs, Falcons Hold Off Vikings 24-14

“We make it exciting enough for you?” the Atlanta coach said, managing a smile.

Then he took a swig of water and breathed a sigh of relief. His team held on in a game it absolutely couldn’t afford to lose.

Matt Ryan tossed three touchdown passes and the Falcons came through with a goal-line stand after Percy Harvin’s 104-yard kickoff return, preserving a 24-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Atlanta (7-4) had to beat the lowly Vikings to maintain its spot in a tight NFC playoff race. Minnesota (2-9) didn’t appear much of a threat without star running back Adrian Peterson, who was sidelined by a sprained left ankle. To make matter worse for the visiting team, three more players went down to injuries in the first half.

The game started according to plan for the Falcons, who raced to a 17-0 lead by halftime. Ryan hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 27-yard touchdown and Roddy White on a 6-yarder. The Vikings had only two first downs and 38 yards until their final possession of the first half, when they padded their numbers a bit against the prevent defense. Even then, Minnesota went to the locker room with five first downs and 97 yards.

Instead of putting the Vikings away, the Falcons let them back in the game.

“We know we’re a lot better than that,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “Sooner or later we’re going to hit our stride.”

Toby Gerhart, filling in for Peterson, scored on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter. Then, after Dominique Franks inadvertently touched a punt the Falcons were trying to run away from, allowing the Vikings to recover, Christian Ponder went to Harvin for a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 to make it 17-14.

Ryan responded with two long completions to White before hitting backup tight end Michael Palmer with a 3-yard touchdown that extended the lead with 6:40 remaining.

Still, the Vikings wouldn’t go away.

Harvin took the ensuing kickoff 7 yards deep in the end zone, found a wall of blockers to the right and took off right in front of the Falcons bench. Christopher Owens made a diving tackle at the 3, and that might’ve saved the Falcons.

“That was the most pivotal play of the game,” Smith said. “We were able to put our defense out there and live to play another play.”

The Vikings got it to the 1 and decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down. But Sean Weatherspoon burst into the backfield and stuffed Gerhart right after he took the handoff, throwing him for a 2-yard loss. The Falcons ran out the clock.

“When the guy comes screaming off the edge like that, you have no chance,” Gerhart said.

The game was a near repeat of Atlanta’s performance the previous week against Tennessee, and doesn’t bode well for this team — considered a contender before the season — making a long run in the playoffs even if they do get in.

The Falcons built a 20-point lead on the Titans but staggered to the finish, barely preserving a 23-17 win.

Now, another close call.

“At the end of the day, we had more points than they did,” Smith said. “That’s the most important stat.”

Vikings rookie coach Leslie Frazier admitted it was mistake to go for a touchdown on fourth down, instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal that would’ve made it a one-score game.

“That’s purely on me,” he said. “I let my emotions get the best of me.”

The Vikings looked a lot better over the final two quarters than they did in the first two, though they were still outgained 335-226 in total yards.

“The first half was ugly,” Gerhart said. “There’s no rhythm. We came back after halftime and wanted to get the ball back and wanted to get a little momentum. Unfortunately, they stopped that momentum at the end of the game.”

Ryan completed 27 of 34 for 262 yards and had his best efficiency rating of the season. White, showing signs of turning around a disappointing season, had his second straight big game with 10 catches for 120 yards.

“It’s kind of the nature of NFL. Teams execute at a high level and things are going exactly as planned. Then there are times where you don’t execute as well as you would like,” Ryan said. “The most important thing is how we responded to that and played in the fourth quarter. We did a great job when we needed to score.”

Ponder was 17 of 25 for 186 yards but was sacked four times and had to scramble away from pressure several more times. Gerhart managed only 44 yards rushing, while Harvin had eight catches for 95 yards to go along with his big play on the kickoff, which was the longest non-scoring return in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

NOTES: Falcons CB Brent Grimes (right knee) went out in the first half and didn’t return. … The Vikings lost S Tyrell Johnson (hamstring), CB Asher Allen (shoulder) and deep snapper Cullen Loeffler (back). DE Jared Allen took over the snapping duties from Loeffler. … Harvin took advantage when the Falcons dropped linebacker Curtis Lofton into coverage on the fourth-and-13. He had no chance of keeping up with the speedy receiver. “We’ll take that matchup every day,” Ponder said.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at

Bookmark and Share

Brown Delivers as Steelers Beat Falcons 34-16

Brown scored on passes of 77 and 44 yards from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and set up another touchdown with a lengthy kickoff return as Pittsburgh’s starters looked sharp for the second straight week.

Roethlisberger finished 11 of 16 for 214 yards and the two touchdowns in one half.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan squeezed an entire game’s worth of action into two quarters, completing 22 of 42 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception against a banged-up Pittsburgh secondary missing starting cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor.

What the Steelers lacked in quantity of offensive plays they made up for in explosiveness, most of it provided by Brown.

The second-year wideout has been a revelation during training camp. Considered no higher than fourth on the depth chart when camp began, he has thrived while filling in for injured Emmanuel Sanders.

Brown scored a 29-yard touchdown against Philadelphia a week ago on a nifty double-move after Roethlisberger escaped pressure. He was so open when he caught the ball he needed to do little more than remain on his feet.

Against the defending NFC South champions, Brown — who occasionally wears a UPS vest given to him by his brother — delivered in more spectacular fashion.

He started the game with a 51-yard kickoff return that led to a 1-yard plunge Rashard Mendenhall, a mere warmup to what was to come.

After the Falcons tied the game at 10 early in the second quarter on a 10-yard pass from Ryan to Roddy White, the Steelers needed just three plays to get back in front.

Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket on third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 23 and found Brown running down the seam at midfield. Brown split a pair of defenders and easily outran them to the end zone. He jogged the last 15 yards and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pointing the ball their way as he crossed the goal line.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin gave the 23-year-old a mild talking to after the score. Brown didn’t waste time showing Tomlin he’d learned his lesson.

The Steelers were facing third-and-10 at the Atlanta 44 shortly before the half when Roethlisberger heaved the ball toward the end zone, where the 5-foot-10 Brown outjumped Atlanta’s Brent Grimes and Dominique Franks for the ball. There was no taunting this time, just a somewhat awkward jig that would make teammate and “Dancing With the Stars” champion Hines Ward either wince or be proud.

The three touchdowns scored by the starters matched the three Pittsburgh put up in the first half against the Eagles last week.

Pittsburgh’s defense, which harassed Philadelphia’s Michael Vick into three picks in the same game, wasn’t quite so dominant trying to contain Atlanta’s versatile and high-powered offense.

The Falcons spread the field to minimize the Steelers’ vaunted pass rush and Ryan tested Pittsburgh reserve cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and William Gay, who had trouble keeping up with one of the league’s best receiving corps.

White finished with eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, Rookie Julio Jones hauled in five passes for 59 yards and had a potential 49-yard touchdown pass slip through his fingers.

Harry Douglas added three catches for 31 yards and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez caught for passes for 26 yards while engaging in an entertaining battle with Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who appeared in a hurry to start living up to the hefty six-year, $50 million contract he signed earlier in the week.

Timmons had six tackles and chased down Ryan’s pass that deflected off the helmet of tight end Michael Palmer, returning it 44 yards to set up Shaun Suisham’s field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Atlanta later tied it, yet could only answer Brown’s touchdowns with field goals. The Falcons rolled up 17 first downs in the half — but Pittsburgh’s defense dug in when it mattered in an entertaining half that is easily the closest both teams have come to mimicking the regular season.

There were no such fireworks in the second half save for a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Crezdon Butler.

By then the starters on both sides already had their shoulder pads off, including defensive end Ray Edwards, who failed to make a tackle in his first preseason game after the Falcons lured him away from Minnesota.

Bookmark and Share