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Brees breaks Marino's mark, Saints roll; QB compiles second 5,000-yard season

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees set the NFL record for yards passing in a season, breaking a mark that Dan Marino had held for 27 years, and the New Orleans Saints clinched the NFC South title with a 45-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, the last a 9-yard strike to Darren Sproles that set the record with 2:51 to go.

It was Brees' final pass of the game and it gave him 5,087 yards passing -- with one game still to play. Marino finished with 5,084 yards for the Miami Dolphins in 1984.

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' four touchdowns gave him 276 for his career, moving him ahead of Joe Montana (273) and Vinny Testeverde (275) for ninth all-time. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards twice -- he had 5,069 in 2008.

The Saints also had 463 total yards, giving them more than 6,857 offensive yards for the season, breaking the 2008 club record of 6,571 yards. New Orleans continues to close in on the NFL-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' 92-yard kickoff return, which set up John Kasay's 29-yard field goal. Brees also was intercepted twice in the game, once in the Falcons end zone, but New Orleans was still dominant enough to take a three-score lead.

The game became a romp when Julio Jones was stripped by Scott Shanle and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 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 finally got his chance to break the passing record.

Knowing he was closing in the record, the crowd howled, "Drewwww" each time he took the field. He finally gave the fans what they wanted after Atlanta failed on a fourth-down try at its own 33. That gave Brees, who needed only 30 yards for the record at that point, just enough space to work with.

Matt Ryan had 258 yards passing and one TD. The Falcons were guaranteed at least a wild card playoff spot when Chicago lost Sunday night.

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Pack holds line

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- So much for the notion that Aaron Rodgers' health would be at risk behind the Green Bay Packers' banged-up offensive line.

With the Packers missing three of their top four tackles because of injuries and only two offensive line starters playing the same positions they were in Week One, the patchwork Packers held Chicago's defense at bay in a 35-21 victory Sunday night.

Rodgers wasn't sacked and threw five touchdowns, allowing Green Bay to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and end the Bears' playoff hopes.

"I barely got touched out there," Rodgers said Sunday night. "That's always fun."

T.J. Lang switched from left guard to right tackle after the Packers lost starter Bryan Bulaga to a sprained left knee and backup Derek Sherrod to a broken right leg against the Chiefs. Evan Dietrich-Smith stepped in for Lang at left guard. Backup Marshall Newhouse already had been filling in at left tackle for Chad Clifton, out since Oct. 9 with hamstring and back injuries.

That meant center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton were the only two players in the same spots they were in for the Packers' season opener against New Orleans.

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Rams in the running

ST. LOUIS -- James Hall goes for the strip and gets nothing. Donnie Jones needs 10 yards on a fake punt and gets nine.

Two big whiffs in another dispiriting loss Saturday, 27-0 to Pittsburgh, that has put the lowly St. Louis Rams in the running for the No. 1 overall draft pick for the second time in three seasons.

The Rams (2-13) and Colts are tied for the NFL's worst record heading into the final week of the season. St. Louis hosts NFC West champion San Francisco. If Indianapolis wins at Jacksonville (4-11) and the Rams drop their seventh in a row, St. Louis gets the top pick.

The Rams face the San Francisco 49ers, who have plenty to play for after the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, keeping the NFC West champion Niners (12-3) from wrapping up the NFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

San Francisco holds the tiebreaker with New Orleans if both were to finish at 13-3 or 12-4.

If Harbaugh wins at St. Louis, he would finish up his first year with the franchise's second-best record by a rookie NFL coach behind George Seifert's 14-2 showing in 1989.

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Around the league

*Jaguars defensive end Aaron Kampman had surgery on his right knee for the second time in two years. Kampman tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice on Nov. 11, 2010. He only played in three games this season before going on injured reserve.

*Minnesota expects running back Adrian Peterson to be recovered from left knee surgery for two torn ligaments in time to start the 2012 season. Peterson tore his ACL and MCL Saturday.

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