The New Orleans Saints return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome today to host the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) in a crucial clash between NFC South rivals. The Saints (6-8) won their second game in three contests in putting together one of their most dominating performances on offense and defense of 2014 in a 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday night at Soldier Field to move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South for the first time this season.
New Orleans is currently in control of their own destiny in the NFC South race where one game separates three clubs. The Falcons, in third place, are one game behind the Saints and a half game behind the 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers. Wins by the Saints in their last two games against Atlanta and at Tampa Bay on December 28 would guarantee the division title and the conference's fourth seed in the playoffs. A Saints win and Carolina loss to the Cleveland Browns (game is also played at noon), would clinch the division today.
The Saints and the Falcons have faced off 90 times in the regular season with Atlanta holding a 47-43 lead. However, the Saints have dominated the series of late, winning five of the last seven meetings, including the last three contests played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Last week, New Orleans won the toss and let the Bears receive first, displaying an immediate ballhawking approach on defense, when CB Patrick Robinson picked off Chicago QB Jay Cutler. As part of a banner day for the New Orleans defense, the team recorded a season-high three picks and an aggressive front seven sacked Cutler a season-best seven times.
In the first play of the second quarter, the first sign of New Orleans' offensive precision to match the performance on defense would take place when QB Drew Brees found TE Josh Hill for an eight-yard touchdown, completing a seven-play, 85-yard drive that produced the first score of the game. It was the first of a career-high two scoring grabs on the evening for Hill.
Brees would put the Saints up 14-0 with 32 seconds left in the first half when he completed a nine-yard touchdown to WR Marques Colston, completing a 10-play, 95-yard drive. S Pierre Warren ended the half with a 32-yard interception return.
New Orleans took the ball coming out of the second half and Brees executed a 12-play, 80-yard drive, which ended with a seven-yard touchdown to Hill to break the game open at 21-0. Near the end of the third quarter, Warren posted this second pick of the game, setting up a field goal and a 24-0 edge.
Brees completed 29-of-36 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 137.8 rating as he helped New Orleans rebound from a 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, December 7.
"I think we responded well as a team," said Brees. "We were embarrassed about what happened against Carolina. We know we're better than that, and certainly felt a great sense of urgency going into this game just knowing what's at state and knowing what a win would do for us, not only in the standings, but just from a confidence standpoint. It sets us up for no bigger game than what is coming up this week against Atlanta."
The victory over the Bears was New Orleans' third straight on the road. At the same time, New Orleans has lost four straight games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season. However, that does not eradicate the home success the club has experienced since 2008, where they've posted a 40-15 record. As they look to clear their path to the playoffs, the Saints will count on the support of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome faithful as they also look to avoid their first losing home record since 2007.
"There is an advantage with the noise when you play at home," said Head Coach Sean Payton. "We have had a lot of success over the years. You want to be able to play well especially when you're playing at home. You want to take advantage of that. We're going to have another chance this week. We have a big home game on Sunday and we're going to have to do a better job there."