Saints gain psychological edge on Falcons -- just in time for playoffs (1 Viewer)


Hung out to dry
Dec 28, 2006
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Cordova, TN
Things we learned from watching the Saints' riveting defeat of the Falcons in the Georgia Dome Monday night ...

1. No one can afford to overlook the defending champs now. In reality, this game won't change the outcome of either the NFC South race or the fight for the conference's top seed. Atlanta (12-3) will still claim both by beating a woeful 2-13 Carolina team next week in the dome, and New Orleans will have to content itself with a wild-card berth and taking to the road in the postseason.

But that doesn't mean Monday night was meaningless. Far from it. Besides putting the Saints (11-4) back into the playoffs for the third time in coach Sean Payton's five seasons, New Orleans ' gritty win announced to the rest of the NFL that it intends to make more than a token defense of its hard-earned Super Bowl title. Oh, and in the process, the Saints just punctured a little of Atlanta 's air of invincibility at home.

It's pretty obvious why getting that task accomplished was important to the Saints: Because they could easily be right back in the Georgia Dome in three weeks, facing the top-seeded Falcons in the NFC divisional round as a road underdog. Beating the Falcons and snapping its eight-game winning streak served notice that the tough-minded and battle-tested Saints can once again win anywhere, against any opponent.

Though it wasn't an artistic type of victory for New Orleans, it was still beautiful all the same. Atlanta entered the night 19-1 at home when quarterback Matt Ryan started a game, and the Falcons were 6-0 this season in their dome, with only three home losses since 2008. With the win, the Saints planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the Falcons, who had come to believe that the game would always last just long enough for Ryan to find a way to win it.

After all, Atlanta had won 24 consecutive games once it had a fourth-quarter lead, dating to 2008. But not this time. The Saints played with resilience and a whatever-it-takes mentality, never giving in to Atlanta 's home-field mojo. New Orleans led 10-0 in the second quarter, gave the lead back at 14-10 in the fourth quarter, then got a clutch 90-yard touchdown drive from quarterback Drew Brees to win it in late-game, comeback fashion.

After trading three-point wins in each other's domes, there's really only a whisker's worth of difference between these two quality programs. But the Saints' playoff success of last season gives them a potential psychological edge against Atlanta, and New Orleans only reinforced its growing reputation for being able to handle the biggest of pressure situations by going into one of the NFL's toughest venues and living to tell. If there is a Round 3 in three weeks, the Saints just reminded us that being the league's defending champ could wind up mattering more than being the division's reigning champ.

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