FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons could put one of the final nails in the Saints’ bounty-season-from-woe coffin with a victory Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
From the start of the season, the Saints have been in scramble mode without their head coach, Sean Payton. They lost their first four games, but scrambled back onto the fringes of the NFC playoff picture and are 5-6 this season.
The last team the 10-1 Falcons, who are tied for the best record in the NFL, would like to see in the divisional round of the playoffs is their nemesis, the Saints.
The Falcons are aware of the circumstances, but aren’t motivated by the thought of delivering the Saints’ frail playoff hopes a near-death blow.
“Not really,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I don’t think you can worry about what other people have going on. We have enough issues ourselves.”
The Falcons have been ever so polite before this matchup after there was a lot of bickering and trash-talking before, during and after the last meeting Nov. 11.
The Falcons apparently asked wide receiver Roddy White not to speak much this week. He’d expressed his disdain for the Saints and the city of New Orleans before the last matchup and after the 31-27 loss said the Falcons “gave” the game to the Saints.
The Saints’ victory wasn’t secure until Malcolm Jenkins swatted down a pass in the end zone intended for White with 1:42 to play.
The Saints, who have owned the Falcons recently, took umbrage with White’s notion that the game was a pre-Christmas gift.
“I can’t see why he would say something like that,” Jenkins told the New Orleans media Tuesday. “We made the plays we needed to make the win the game. I don’t think they necessarily gave it to us. I thought we made some big plays.
“I know they were frustrated, not being able to make a couple of third-and-ones, to be able to run the ball, things like that they’re used to doing.”
The Saints have won 11 of the past 13 games and five of the past six at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons lead the series overall 45-41.
“They are a really good team,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They are better than what their record shows. They have a very explosive offense and a lot of playmakers on defense.”
The Saints would have to make an improbable climb to reach the playoffs.
Behind the division leaders, Green Bay (7-4), Tampa Bay (6-5), Seattle (6-5) and Minnesota (6-5) all have better records than the Saints. The Saints are back in the 6-5 pack with Washington, Dallas and Minnesota.
The Falcons need a win and a Tampa Bay loss or tie against Denver to clinch the NFC South title and a playoff berth. They also would clinch with a tie and a Tampa Bay loss.
The Falcons can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Seattle loss or tie. They also would clinch with a tie, a Seattle loss and a Minnesota loss.
“That’s all on the horizon,” Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. “We’re not too focused on that right now.”
The Falcons should receive a boost from the return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He missed the Nov. 11 game with an ankle injury.
“It was the game that I chose to watch last night,” Weatherspoon said Tuesday. “I kind of watch a game a night during the week. It was kind of tough not being out there but, I have a great opportunity to be a part of it this time.”
Smith is expecting a different matchup this time around.
“We’re a different team,” Smith said. “They’re a different team. At this time of the year you’re going to have different guys coming in and out of the lineup because of attrition through injuries.”
As far as all of the banter, Smith has blocked it out. He calls it “noise.”
“I’m not meaning it to be taken the wrong way, but there’s noise before every game,” Smith said. “It starts on the Tuesday if the game’s on Sunday and there’s noise that goes on outside of the building. It’s part of the process leading up to the football game. … We don’t listen to it. We don’t concern ourselves with it.”
Bring on the noise.
Falcons hold on to move to 10-1, can clinch NFC South title with win over Saints, Tampa Bay loss to Denver
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