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Rested and healed, New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr prepared for stretch run

'We're in first place - after everything we've been through and haven't been playing perfect on both sides yet'


Having already displayed the resilience needed to bounce back from an in-game injury to play the following week, there wasn't much doubt that New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr would be ready when New Orleans (5-5) steps on the field Sunday to play the Falcons (4-6) at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

But Carr, who was sidelined in the third quarter against Minnesota on Nov. 12 with a shoulder injury and concussion, definitely benefited from the bye week that followed that game, using the extra time to rehab his shoulder and clear the league's concussion protocol.

"I needed (the bye), and it was great timing," he said Friday. "You always want a bye week later in the season. From training camp on, that's a lot of football in a row, and it's a grind. You don't know how bad your body feels until you get some time off. And then that next Wednesday practice you feel rejuvenated and all that.

"We're excited. We're in first place – after everything we've been through and haven't been playing perfect on both sides yet, we feel like if we can just bring that together and let's see what we can do down the stretch. It's an exciting time for us."

The Saints hold a one-game lead over the Falcons and Tampa Bay in the NFC South standings, and can create some separation Sunday with a win. Using the bye week to self-scout was needed by New Orleans, hopefully to sync up the consistency that was spotty in the first 10 games.

"It's been a roller coaster," said Carr, who has completed 220 of 334 passes for 2,231 yards and 10 touchdowns, with four interceptions. "At the beginning it was up and down, a lot of tough times. Last five games we did a lot of really good things. We started getting better in areas we had to get better.

"The cohesiveness, the unity, the timing, the things that we were doing better – the last five weeks I think we were a top three, top five offense in certain areas. You look at that and say, 'How do we keep doing that?' But you also have to go back to the first five (games) to make sure you don't fall back into some traps, overlooking things."

Even with the unevenness, New Orleans is atop the division with seven games remaining, four within the division.

"That's the No. 1 goal, you want to win the division," Carr said. "And we have great challenge this week to try and keep that lead. We're going to go into their place in a hostile environment against a really good football team that wants nothing more than to beat us up."

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Saints Coach Dennis Allen said Atlanta's defense, led by defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen – who was the Saints' defensive line coach from 2017-21 and New Orleans' co-defensive coordinator last season – is an aggressive one.

"They play tough, they're physical," Allen said. "I think they do some creative stuff in terms of their pressure package, which creates some problems. I think they're well-coached, I think they're extremely disciplined in what they do."

The Saints, 13th in yards per game (337.4) and 16th in scoring (21.4), hope to have found their offensive footing during the bye.

"At the end of the day, first place right now means nothing," Carr said. "So we understand that, yes, we are happy about that even without not playing perfectly at the same time offensively and defensively. But at the same time, we understand the work that needs to be done to keep that.

"We understand the challenge that lies ahead for us to be able to hold on to that. I think a lot of guys spent time resting, relaxing, getting their minds right, getting their bodies right to make sure that the first time this season that we play Atlanta, that we're ready to go. Because they're a really good football team."

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