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Brees cool like (Matty) 'Ice'

In our blog post Monday afternoon, we noted the virtues of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in late-game situations in which his team trailed by eight points or fewer.

Monday night, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees showed he’s got a few clutch plays saved for the most important time of the season too.

Brees, who threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, engineered a brilliant go-ahead drive in a 17-14 playoff-clinching road win in Atlanta.

The Saints won the game by spreading the football around. You may have heard it mentioned on SportsCenter that they are the first team in NFL history to have 10 players with at least 20 catches. Five different players caught a pass on that pivotal drive. The last three completions, in a run of seven straight successful pass plays on the drive, went to Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Jimmy Graham.

The Falcons abandoned the defensive strategy they employed for most of the game to keep Brees in check (send extra pass rushers, blitz DBs and use their base 4-3 defense) on that key drive. Brees had his completion streak against a more passive Falcons defense.

Our video review showed that Atlanta didn’t bring added pass pressure at all on the drive, something it had done consistently leading up to that point. Brees faced personnel groupings of five or more Falcons’ defensive backs on six of his eight pass attempts on the drive, completing five of them for 44 yards and the decisive touchdown.

The Falcons should have known that was coming. In their first meeting with the Saints this season, Brees was 21-for-24 with three touchdown throws, going up against the Falcons defensive packages that featured at least five defensive backs. He had two interceptions against such sets today, but came up big when he needed it most.

Falcons Defensive Percentages
Monday vs Saints

Brees added two more consecutive completions on the Saints final drive to wrap up the victory. By comparison, Ryan, normally clutch in these sorts of spots, was just 2-for-5 on his pass attempts in Atlanta’s last two series of this game.

Brees reached a couple of other distinctions in this game. He cleared 400 completions for a season for the third time in his career. No other NFL quarterback has done that more than once.

On a dubious note, he joined Eli Manning in the 30-touchdown/20 interception club, something that hadn’t been done in the NFL since Brett Favre did it for the 2003 Packers. But considering that “honor” came in a victory, chances are he won’t be too upset.