Game day is here. Saints-Falcons part II.
“It’s always a big game. There’s always a lot on the line, always a lot at stake. There’s a lot of pride involved. We want to play well. We want to beat those guys. They’re a very good divisional opponent. I think there is a lot of familiarity with personal and such, and you feel like we’re two of the teams that are at the top of this division a lot. So it’s always going to bring out the best in each side.”
The Saints in fact have won four in a row over the Falcons and 11 of their last 13.The last meeting was earlier this month were on November 11 the Saints held on for a 31-27 win. A win that Falcons players failed to give the Saints credit for, “It's not like they came out here and won a game," said Atlanta receiver Roddy White. "I think we kind of gave it to them." He also added that Atlanta would be ready the next time around.
Well not that the Saints needed extra motivation or understanding of how this game is being viewed, but Wednesday upon arriving in Atlanta the team was welcomed in rather interesting way. The team bus was egged on the tarmac by airport employees.
“Wow, as we're boarding buses on the Tarmac @ Atlanta airport, we start getting eggs thrown @ us by airport workers! Guess they do hate us,” Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel tweeted.
“Bus just got egged after landing in ATL by the ramp workers. Classy! "RISE Up" smh,” was tight end Jimmy Graham’s tweet.
I could write for days on how unbelievable it is that airport workers did this in terms of a security risk, but won’t since it’s a game preview. I just am glad it was eggs and nothing else but it’s seriously scare that people that have access to the area where the team bus and charter are can be allowed to that.
None the less, the egging no doubt just adds fuel to the rivalry fire for the fan bases.
The key message this week that circulated around the Saints locker room was the fact that the Falcons are finishing games. Atlanta has won the last two games by a combined five points continuing the trend they’ve been on most of the season. Four of the Falcons 10 wins have been by more than six points.
“Good teams find a way to win regardless of the situation and that’s what they’ve been doing,” says Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. “Their resolve is pretty good. They know how to come back from a deficit and they know how to finish off a game,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins added. “We respect them in regards. We know that they can finish a game so it’ll be tough hanging on in the back half of the game.
The Saints saw that firsthand 19 days ago when the Falcons after getting stopped four times from the one yard line with less than two-minutes to play, still almost won in the end. “All of these games come down to the wire like that. It’s always like that every year,” chimes in Saints safety Roman Harper.
A key will be the availability and health of right tackle Zach Strief who was limited in the two days of practice this week. ““I probably feel about the way I’ve felt all week,” said assistant head coach Joe Vitt prior to leaving for Atlanta. “He’s answered the bell in practice and has looked ok so we’ll wait and see.” William Robinson, who made a week with the team this past Tuesday, would start in Strief’s place if he couldn’t go.
Brees has had success at the Georgia Dome since becoming a member of the Saints going 5-1, completing 67.4 percent of his throws, tossing 13 touchdowns while being picked off five times. Will he have time to throw the ball Thursday however? San Francisco sacked Brees five times in the second half alone this past Sunday as they pounced of the injury up front.
Another key is how well the teams can run the football. The Saints defense held Atlanta running back Michael Turner to just 15 yards on 13 carries and has done a good job of keeping him in check. Turner in the last three games has only totaled 78 yards on 41 carries so the Saints. Reports out of Atlanta this week and judging from Saints defensive players comments in the locker room, both sides expect the Falcons to try and run the football for more success tonight.
The tight end battle is another key. New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzales put on a show. Graham had seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Gonzales has 11 catches for 122 yards to with two touchdowns as well. There is no question each time will try to make adjustments to try and keep that from happening again.
My final key is who is healthier? Saints players this week talked openly about how physical the game was against the 49ers. Atlanta battled in Tampa Bay winning a one point game against a team that is physical but are no 49ers. The Falcons could be a little fresher and have the added advantage of not having to travel.
As usual when trying to figure out how this game will go I’ve gone back and forth several times. My head is telling me Atlanta and my gut is telling me Saints. The Falcons started hot in the first meeting and the Saints were lucky to keep the Falcons to just 10 points in the first two positions, as it could have been 14-0. Brees and the offense had success on the defense for a while but were shut down as well through stretches. Atlanta failed to pick up a yard that could have possibly given them the game, but the Saints defense made the plays needed to preserve the win.
The Saints defense is also improving week to week and against San Francisco they held a team to under 400 yards of total offense for the first time all season.
I think adrenaline gets the teams through the fatigue but there will be tired legs come the second half. I see a shot a high scoring game as both teams have a number of weapons on offense. New Orleans still has that edge of the past successes and proving in this series they can make the key play. I’ll take the Saints in another nail bitter 34-31.