Tuesday, 28 December 2010 19:25

New Orleans Saints Looks Towards Tampa Bay After Edging Atlanta Falcons

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Ed Staton Bayoubuzz SportsThe Super Bowls champs were last season's Saints team, but this year's edition outfought the Falcons 17-14 and put Drew Brees' team back into the playoffs again on Monday night in the Georgia Dome at Atlanta.

The odds are—the Falcons (12-3) will still claim the NFC South title and the conference's top seed with a win over woeful Carolina on Sunday while the Saints (11-4) will have to settle for a wild-card berth in the playoffs and taking to the road in the postseason. 

This victory was important to the Saints because they could easily be right back in the Georgia Dome in three weeks, playing the top-seeded Falcons again in the divisional round in their dome. The Saints beat the Dirty Birds and snapped their eight-game winning streak  while serving notice that they are battle-tested and tough-minded and can win anywhere against anybody.

"This was a significant win and we were fortunate to overcome the turnovers and come up with enough points to win," was Saints coach Sean Payton's take on the game.

Brees threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, one of which was returned 26 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Chauncey Davis for a 14-10 Falcons lead.

"Drew can put a mistake past him, and the players all feel that with him at quarterback they can win any game they play," said Payton of Brees, who completed seven consecutive passes on the winning touchdown drive, including a six-yard touchdown strike to rookie tight end Jimmy Graham on a third-and-three.

"I was just telling myself, give ourselves a chance," said Brees. "The defense did a great job of stopping them. I've seen this team win in a lot of different ways. Despite everything that happened before that last drive, we could go 90 yards one play at a time, make some first downs and find a way to take the lead back."

The division title remains possible for the Saints if the Saints win their final game over Tampa Bay and the Falcons lose.

Before the game-winning 90-yard touchdown drive, the Saints had six straight possessions ending in four punts and two fourth-quarter interceptions. Prior to Brees saving his best for last, the Saints had scored on a short field touchdown drive set up by a Falcons second-quarter fumble, and a 52-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley.

Again, the Saints had no decent running game, but you can't say Atlanta's blitz-happy defensive strategy was a total success.  Brees threw 49 passes and generated just 17 points.

After the game, Saints defensive players gathered around the Falcons' logo at midfield and had a photo taken.. Saints linebacker Jon Vilma said the players frequently have pictures taken to commemorate significant victories. This win could qualify as a victory that's probably more significant than any the Saints have had since they won the Super Bowl.

The Falcons gained only 75 yards on the ground, including just 48 on 17 carries from bulldozer Michael Turner. He also lost his first fumble of the season, at the Saints' 2-yard line.

Brees completed 35-of-49 passes for 301 yards with one touchdown. Brees now has 426 completions this season which marks the third straight season he has surpassed 400 completions. He is the first Saints quarterback to accomplish the feat.

Pierre Thomas was the Saints' whole running game, gaining 63 yards on 19 carries with a two--yard touchdown. He also had seven catches for 39 yards.

Robert Meachem led Saints receivers with a career-high 10 receptions for 101 yards. Brees seldom threw long, settling for short tosses, which the Birds were allowing.

The Saints defense allowed the Falcons to only 3-of-12 third-down attempts.

Saints safety Darren Sharper played a key role in shutting down the Falcons offense. He played over the top of Roddy White and helped hold the tweeting needler to three catches for 42 yards.

"We had good coverage over-all as a secondary," said Sharper. "We have guys that can cover. That's our strength as a team. They kind of played into our hands."

The Saints stopped the run after giving up 208 yards last week. "One of our goals was to stop their running game. We knew we didn't tackle well last week. It was our goal this week to not allow them to rush the ball. We knew that Michael Turner was going to be a tough challenge. Our guys up front did a heck of a job and our linebackers did even better by not allowing him to get going.'

Sharper looked to the future. "Well, we are in the tournament," said the safety. "That was our main goal. Just to have a chance to be in the tournament. Anything can happen. If Carolina can play their best game of their history and beat these guys, we'll have a home-field. That's what we're rooting for. We have to take care of business and beat Tampa Bay, who is playing extremely well right now."

The Falcons had won 24 straight games once they had a fourth-quarter lead, dating to 2008, But not this time. The Saints played with a "whatever-it-takes mentality" and served notice that once again they can win anywhere.  They enhanced their reputation for being able to handle the biggest of pressure situations.

"I thought it was a very hard-fought game tonight," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "It was two pretty good football teams playing against each other. We left some plays out there. We did some thing's very uncharacteristic in terms of turnovers in the game. We'll regroup, we'll get back together."

The Falcons learned if you're going to be a champ, you have to show you can beat a champ.

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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