Saints, Falcons ready for NFC South clash
After playing 18 days ago in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons won’t have to introduce themselves when they meet again Thursday night.
Then again, the NFC South rivals didn’t need many introductions when they met for the first of their twice-yearly matchups earlier this month.
Even on a shortened work week, they’ll be set for what figures to be an emotionally charged game considering the Saints ended the Falcons’ dreams of an undefeated season with a 31-27 win on Nov. 11.
The Saints (5-6) need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Falcons (10-1) will be trying to make them pay and move a step closer to a division title when they get together at 7:20 p.m.
While the telecast will be picked up by Fox8 in New Orleans, it will only be available on NFL Network in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.
Adding to the excitement of a late-November game is some bad blood between the teams, which has been brewing while the Saints won 11 of the past 13 meetings — a stretch that began with Sean Payton’s arrival in 2006.
The Falcons’ feathers became ruffled in 2010 when members of the Saints’ defensive line posed for pictures at midfield after a win in the Georgia Dome and again in the next-to-last game of the 2011 season when they said the Saints ran up the score in a 45-16 blowout.
Then, while Falcons wide receiver Roddy White was telling reporters that they gave the game to the Saints earlier this month, Saints linebackers Curtis Lofton and Scott Shanle were in their locker room adding fuel to the fire.
Lofton, who played with the Falcons from 2008-11 before joining the Saints as a free agent this winter, said there was no rivalry between the two teams because the series has been so lopsided recently.
Shanle told Yahoo! Sports that the Falcons were “like our little brothers” after he felt they disrespected Lofton, their old teammate, during pregame warmups.
All of which, of course, will have no bearing on this game, according to the coaches.
They were more interested in getting their teams ready in a compressed week, which had them squeezing five days of preparation into three.
The silver lining was the Saints know the Falcons and the Falcons know the Saints — even if they don’t like each other very much.
“Absolutely,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said when asked if playing a familiar foe helps. “It doesn’t make it any less challenging, but they know us and we know them.
“We are going to run plays that we have probably all seen run against one another before. We will try to disguise them with different formations and motions.
“This is not going to be a game about scheme. This is going to be a game about execution and physicality.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said most of the Thursday games this season, of which every NFL team has a part of, have been between divisional foes.
“That helps. … Obviously, just physically getting your body ready and then putting together a game plan with very little practice time during the week, that’s a challenge,” Brees said.
Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said there is no real advantage for either team or either side of the ball when they play two games with little time in between.
“We’re both doing the same thing,” he said. “They had us for a game (on Nov. 11) and know our personnel, and we have the same for them. It’s kind of a continuation of the same game. It’s like going in at halftime and making adjustments.
“This is halftime of two games. We’ll make subtle adjustments and I’m sure they’ll do the same. Yet, we have an appreciation for each other’s personnel because we’ve gone against them.”
Despite everything that’s been done and said, and how little time they’ve had to prepare, Brees said the only thing that matters is getting the job done.
“The fans probably see it as more of a rivalry and all of that stuff than the players do,” he said. “I think we know the importance of the game.
“It gets chippy at times, during the week and game day, but it is what it is. We just see them as a very good divisional opponent that we want to make sure we can get the upper hand on because in the end it affects a lot of where you stand within the division.”
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