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John DeShazier: Drew Brees focused and ready to lead Saints against Falcons

Star QB threw five picks in loss at Atlanta last season


All the elements are in place for a classic.

Season opener? Check.

Defending division title winner, and reviled rival, standing on the opposing sideline? Check.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, well-known house of ear-splitting noise, serving as the venue? Check.

Series that recently has produced several white-knuckle finishes? Check.

When the New Orleans Saints play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday it won't be for a playoff spot or for the right to advance to the Super Bowl. But it'll be plenty important nonetheless.

"These are always close games, these are always hard-fought games, there's always a lot at stake when we play each other," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "It doesn't get any better than this.

"The game is meaningful. They all are, especially this one, being that it is the home opener, it is a divisional opponent, it's the Atlanta Falcons, the division winner from a year ago. We know the type of team they are – they're an extremely good team, extremely well-coached team.

"Seven of our 10 games with the Falcons, since Mike Smith's been the head coach, have been decided by the last possession. Seven out of 10. It just goes to show you the type of battle this always is with these guys."

So it's understandable why the rivalry is what it is, especially lately, with the two franchises battling for supremacy in the NFC South Division.

The Saints have a Super Bowl victory; the Falcons don't. The Falcons, based on last year's results (Atlanta was 13-3, the Saints were 7-9), likely believe they're closer to playing for the NFL's ultimate team price than are the Saints.

But the Saints, who split the season series with the Falcons last year, with each team winning at home, believe last season to be an aberration, weighted by unprecedented suspensions and injuries. ![]( "New Orleans Saints")

"They're a really good team, and we're a really good team," Brees said. "And so, any time you've got two prideful teams, organizations, that are used to winning and used to playing well, that's a recipe for a very highly competitive, highly intense atmosphere. And so that's what I find you always get with this game."

What doesn't usually happen, is what happened last season in Atlanta. Brees was intercepted five times in the Falcons' 23-13 victory. It was a career high and represented roughly one-fourth of Brees' 19 interceptions last season.

"It was crummy," he said. "It's funny because I watched the film and it's like, I could have very easily thrown five touchdowns, instead of five picks. But coulda, shoulda, woulda.

"You've got to have thick skin and you've got to be able to go water-off-a-duck's-back in this position. You've got to have a short-term memory in a lot of cases. That one stings, that one will always sting. I can think of four or five games in my career that I look back on and they still sting me. But that's also what gives you an edge. It's what keeps you motivated. That was not the guy that I know.

"You have to tell yourself, faceless opponent. Doesn't matter if it's the Atlanta Falcons or an AFC team that we play once every four years, that we don't know anything about.

"Obviously, we're familiar with these guys and there's a track record but you have to find a place mentally to go to and just, you're just playing ball. You're just operating. It doesn't matter what jersey color they're wearing or who you're playing, you're just trying to score every time you touch the ball."

One more element: Brees, focused and ready to lead his high-powered offense? Check.

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