ATLANTA -- The word of the night, one the Atlanta Falcons players kept saying, almost their unofficial theme of the game was this: karma.
The Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints 23-13 Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, and in the process they snapped Saints quarterback Drew Brees' steak of 54 consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass.
Talk about getting the giant banana split and then adding the cherry on top.
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"What goes around comes around," Falcons corner Dunta Robinson said. "It's karma."
Why was it karma?
It was two years ago that the Saints danced on the Falcons logo on the Georgia Dome field after an important Monday night victory, and one player said they "pissed on it."
It was last year that the Falcons had to watch Brees set the single-season passing record against them, throwing the pass to break it with 2:51 left in a game New Orleans was leading 38-16 at the time. That infuriated the Atlanta players and coaches.
Then they had to listen as Saints player Scott Shanle said they acted classless before the teams played four weeks ago in New Orleans.
"That was all a bunch of nothing," one Flacons player said. "That was just them trying to make a big deal out of nothing. When he broke the record against us last year, it pissed us off the way it went down. That's what makes this so sweet to stop his streak. It's for our city. They were as mad as we were."
Not only did the Falcons stop Brees' streak, but they also picked him off five times, his high for interceptions in a game in his career. Brees finished with a passer rating of 37.6, which was so unlike him.
"It's the first time this has ever happened to me and it's extremely disappointing," Brees said. "I pride myself on being a great decision-maker, and the guy that is going to help us win this game and not be a detriment and turn the ball over like that."
For most of the night, he was jumpy in the pocket, not accurate and never seemed to get into a groove. He did throw for 341 yards, but it had to be the one of the least-pretty 341-yard games in NFL history.
Not only that, but Brees blew a scoring chance at the end of the first half when he dumped off a pass instead of throwing it into the end zone and the clock ran out.
"I thought I had more time," Brees said.
What makes it even more surprising is that the Falcons did it with starting corner Asante Samuel, their best cover player, playing just one play because of a bad shoulder. But Christopher Owens and Robert McClain stepped in to do a nice job in coverage.
"That's just guys stepping up," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. "It shows the hard work those guys put in each week."
Brees against backups in the secondary is usually a formula for disaster for the defense, but the pressure up front seemed to rattle him some. The Falcons had just one sack, but they were around Brees a lot.
"The way the defense played tonight, it speaks volumes of how they played," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of breaking Brees' streak.
The Falcons needed it. Their normally explosive offense wasn't very good. After jumping to a 17-0 lead, the offense floundered for much of the game after that. The Saints played a Cover-2 scheme much of the night to take away the Falcons' deep passing game. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan 18 for 33 for 165 yards. In the first meeting, in which the Saints gave the Falcons their only loss of the season, Ryan threw for over 400.
This was a day for the Falcons defense. It is a unit that has come under a lot of scrutiny this season, a unit that some think will be the undoing of this team when it gets to the postseason.
Doing what they did to Brees and that New Orleans offense might change some of that thinking.
"They got one record on us, but we stopped one," Robinson said. "I guess that makes us even."
Many of the Falcons players said they were unaware that the streak was broken.
"I had no idea," Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said.
For others, it was a classic case of getting even. Those were the players that fumed when Brees went back in to break the record last year. Some of those same players actually talked about breaking his streak before they met in the Superdome this year. That didn't happen, but it did in this one.
The Falcons are now 11-1, owners of the best record in the NFL, and on their way to getting home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Saints are 5-7, and their season is all but over.
So in one night, the Falcons put a stake in the Saints' playoff hopes, ended Brees' streak and continued to win games -- this time when they didn't play well on offense. All on a night after the Saints had their buses egged at the Atlanta airport by some workers.
"I love those guys," Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas said. "We did this for them.
And, in the process, they got even with Brees and the Saints. They rubbed their noses in the stink last year, and on Thursday the Falcons returned the favor.
"That's it," one Falcons player said. "It's karma. They won't want to hear that, but that's exactly what it is."
Here's the kicker: The ultimate karma could come in two months. That's when the Super Bowl is played in the Superdome. Can you imagine the Falcons winning one on that field?
"Don't think we haven't thought about that," one Falcons player said. "That would be the ultimate karma."
As they say, karma can be a bitch.