1:00 PM ET, December 21, 2014
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Sunday Blitz: Falcons-Saints Recap
Hoping to represent the downtrodden NFC South in the postseason, these sub-.500 teams meet Sunday at the Superdome.
After losing four of five, New Orleans (6-8) took over first place with Monday's 31-15 road win over reeling Chicago. The Saints bounced back from a 41-10 home loss to Carolina (5-8-1), which sits right behind New Orleans in the South. The Falcons (5-9) trail the Saints by one game.
"I think we've shown a couple times we can handle adversity, let's make sure we can handle success, too," said Drew Brees, who threw for 375 yards to reach the 4,000-yard mark for an NFL record ninth straight year. "The tendency after success is to relax, and it's not time to relax."
The Saints, who finished second in the division last season despite an 11-5 record, can win the South for the first time since 2011 with a victory over the Falcons and a Carolina loss at home to Cleveland.
"It sets us up for no bigger game than what's coming up next week against Atlanta," Brees said.
The playoffs have essentially already started for the Falcons, who must beat the Saints and defeat Carolina at home in the season finale to clinch a postseason berth.
"We all understand where we're at," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "We know we control our own destiny. It doesn't matter what anyone else does. The first thing we have to do is go down and play very well and win the game in New Orleans."
The problem for the Falcons is they haven't had much success in that department lately.
Since the Saints acquired Brees ahead of the 2006 season, New Orleans is 7-1 against Atlanta at the Superdome. Brees has a 103.8 rating in those contests, and he's averaged 320.7 yards with nine touchdowns during a three-game home win streak in the series.
He threw for 333 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Atlanta in Week 1, but New Orleans lost 37-34 on Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal in overtime. Bryant kicked a tying 51-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.
Matt Ryan went 31 of 43 for a franchise-record 448 yards with three TDs in the opener, and is averaging 362.7 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions during the skid in New Orleans. He has totaled 1,046 passing yards with eight TDs over the last three weeks but has been hurt by costly interceptions.
Ryan had an interception returned 52 yards for a touchdown in last Sunday's 27-20 home loss to Pittsburgh and threw one that led to a Green Bay touchdown four plays later in a 43-37 road loss the previous week.
"We can't worry about anything other than this week," he said. "We know what's in front of us. We know what we've got to do."
Ryan should benefit from having Julio Jones back after the star wide receiver sat out against the Steelers with a hip injury suffered late against the Packers. Smith said Jones, who had a team-record 259 yards in Green Bay and ranks second in the NFL with 1,428, will be "ready to go" Sunday.
"It's tough when he's not in," Ryan said of Jones, who had seven catches for 116 yards in the opener. "He's such a special player, such a dynamic player for us."
The Saints' offense appears to be firing on all cylinders again after getting Jimmy Graham back in the mix. Graham had five catches for 87 yards Monday after a three-catch, 25-yard performance followed a game in which he wasn't targeted.
Brees was 29 of 36 on Monday against the NFL's 31st-ranked passing defense, and now looks to pick apart an Atlanta team that is allowing a league-worst 292.5 passing yards per game -- 20.3 more than the Bears.
New Orleans' defense has a renewed confidence after limiting Chicago to 278 yards while intercepting Jay Cutler three times to go with seven sacks. The Saints had surrendered at least 400 yards in each of their previous four games.
"I think there's a sense of urgency that we need to create each week, and we need to be mindful of how important that edge is to play well," coach Sean Payton said.
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New Orleans Saints
|Avg Points Allowed||.9||2.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ATL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ATL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New Orleans leads 17-11|
|Sep 7, 2014||ATL 37, NO 34|
|Nov 21, 2013||ATL 13, NO 17|
|Sep 8, 2013||ATL 17, @NO 23|
|Nov 29, 2012||ATL 23, NO 13|
|Nov 11, 2012||ATL 27, @NO 31|
|Dec 26, 2011||ATL 16, @NO 45|
|Nov 13, 2011||ATL 23, NO 26|
|Dec 27, 2010||ATL 14, NO 17|
|Sep 26, 2010||ATL 27, @NO 24|
|Dec 13, 2009||ATL 23, NO 26|
|Nov 2, 2009||ATL 27, @NO 35|
|Dec 7, 2008||ATL 25, @NO 29|
|Nov 9, 2008||ATL 34, NO 20|
|Dec 10, 2007||ATL 14, NO 34|
|Oct 21, 2007||ATL 16, @NO 22|
|Nov 26, 2006||ATL 13, NO 31|
|Sep 25, 2006||ATL 3, @NO 23|
|Dec 12, 2005||ATL 36, NO 17|
|Oct 16, 2005||ATL 34, @NO 31|
|Dec 26, 2004||ATL 13, @NO 26|
|Nov 28, 2004||ATL 24, NO 21|
|Nov 16, 2003||ATL 20, @NO 23|
|Oct 19, 2003||ATL 17, NO 45|
|Nov 17, 2002||ATL 24, NO 17|
|Oct 27, 2002||ATL 37, @NO 35|
|Dec 9, 2001||ATL 10, NO 28|
|Oct 21, 2001||ATL 20, @NO 13|
Saints have lost 4 straight at home for 1st time since dropping 4 in a row in a streak overlapping the 2006-07 seasons. It's their longest IN THE SUPERDOME since they lost 4 in a row in 1999
Saints clinch the NFC South with a win and a Panthers loss. If they do clinch, it would be the 6th postseason berth since coach Sean Payton's arrival in 2006. From their inception in 1967 to 2005, the Saints had a total of 5 playoff appearances.[+]
Saints Playoff History
The Falcons have allowed a league-worst 95 points in the final 3 minutes of each half this season. They've allowed the most points overall in the 2nd and 4th quarters at 253 this season.[+]
Most Points Allowed This Season - Final 3 Minutes of Each Half
Drew Brees posted a 40.3 Total QBR Sunday, his third home games this season where he posted a Total QBR below 50. He had no such games last year.
The Saints offense has averaged 4.5 Expected Points Added per game (offensive efficiency) at home this season. In Drew Brees' previous 8 seasons with New Orleans, the Saints averaged an NFL-best 7.9 offensive efficiency in home games.
Matt Ryan was 7-of-8 for 107 yards targeting Julio Jones, including 3-of-3 for 63 yards on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Jones wasn't the most-targeted Falcon (Roddy White had 9 targets), but was easily Ryan's most-effective weapon. Ryan averaged twice as many yards per attempt to Jones as every other Falcon combined.[+]
Matt Ryan by Target Sunday
- Drew Brees was 16-of-27 for 226 yards and two interceptions on throws deeper than 5 yards downfield, his 1st game with multiple interceptions and no touchdowns on those throws since Week 16 of last season. - Brees couldn't connect on his 1st 5 throws to Jimmy Graham, and didn't complete a pass to Graham until 3:08 left in the 3rd quarter, at which point the Falcons led 20-7. - The Falcons sacked Brees 5 times Sunday, the Falcons' most in a game this season and tied for their most in a game in the last 9 seasons. Atlanta had 9 sacks in Week 4 of 2005 against the Vikings.
Devonta Freeman has 2 plays today that gained at least 30 yards, including Atlanta's last touchdown. He hadn't gained at least 30 yards on a play before today.
ESPN Stats & Information