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Saints at Falcons Capsule

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    <span style="">                 <span style="text-decoration: underline;">NEW ORLEANS SAINTS SEEK CLUB RECORD 13TH VICTORY, FIRST-ROUND BYE AT ATLANTA </span>                

The New Orleans Saints (12-0), who tied a club record for wins in a season and clinched the NFC South Division title last week with a 33-30 overtime win in Washington, travel to the Atlanta Falcons (6-6) for Sunday's noon CT game at the Georgia Dome.

The contest has playoff implications for both clubs. New Orleans can clinch a first-round bye with a win or a tie. The Falcons, meanwhile, are also in the hunt for a postseason wildcard berth. The Falcons currently trail three 8-4 teams in the NFC (Dallas, Philadelphia and Green Bay) and are the lone team in the wildcard card hunt to be at .500 in the race for a postseason berth.

Following Sunday's dramatic overtime come-from-behind 33-30 win at the Washington Redskins, the Saints are one of only eight teams in NFL history to start a season 12-0. The Falcons currently hold a 44-36 edge in the all-time series, with New Orleans defeating Atlanta six of seven times since 2006. The Falcons have a 9-8 edge in contests played at the Georgia Dome. The Saints have played the Falcons 80 times, more than any other opponent in their history.

In the first meeting between the two clubs this season at the Louisiana Superdome on Monday, November 2, the Saints racked up over 400 yards in total offense, while a swarming defense intercepted Falcons QB Matt Ryan three times, including twice in the fourth quarter to provide the formula for a 35-27 victory.

On Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., the Saints overcame ten-point deficits on three different occasions and K Garrett Hartley made his fourth field goal of the day in overtime to bring New Orleans back after they were trailing 30-20 in the fourth quarter. Hartley kicked a field goal with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter to pull the Saints within seven at 30-23, but time was running out when Redskins K Shaun Suisham trotted out to attempt 23-yard field goal with 1:56 left. The attempt missed wide to the right, though and QB Drew Brees found WR Robert Meachem with a 53-yard touchdown to tie the game at 30-30. It marked the second big play of the game for Meachem, who had a career-high eight catches for 142 yards, as he had previously tracked down a Washington defender (S Kareem Moore) on an interception return, stripped the ball from him and ran it in 44 yards for a touchdown.

With the Redskins driving once more as time wound down, LB Jonathan Vilma snared an interception late in regulation that set up an unsuccessful 58-yard field goal attempt and ensured the game would go into overtime. With the Redskins winning the coin toss for the fifth period, New Orleans would snare one more turnover when CB Chris McAlister hit Redskins FB Mike Sellers after a short completion, forced him to lose the football and recovered it at the Washington 37-yard line.

Brees, who completed 35 of 49 passes for 419 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.3, engineered the game-winning drive.

With a combination of short passes and four runs by RB Mike Bell, New Orleans advanced to the one-yard line, where Hartley completed the dramatic comeback when his field goal attempt sailed through the uprights and sent the victorious team into their locker room, where NFC South division title hats awaited them. It marked the second division title in four years for the Saints and represented a last to first turnaround in the NFC South division standings from 2008 to 2009.

WORTH NOTING: With a win, New Orleans would have a 13-win season for the first time in club history...With a New Orleans win or tie or losses or ties by Dallas, Philadelphia and Arizona the Saints would clinch a first-round bye...New Orleans ranks first in the NFL in offense, fifth rushing and third passing the ball...New Orleans is ranked 18th defensively, 20th against the run and 22nd versus the pass …The Falcons are ranked 16th offensively, 16th rushing and 15th passing...Atlanta is ranked 28th defensively, 23rd against the run and 29th against the pass...Sunday's contest will be nationally televised on FOX (WVUE locally) with Joe Buck handling play-by-play, Troy Aikman serving as color analyst and Pam Oliver on the sidelines...The game can heard regionally on the Saints Radio Network (WWL 870 AM and 105.3 FM locally) with Jim Henderson handling play-by-play, Hokie Gajan serving as color analyst and Kristian Garic reporting from the Saints sidelines...A Spanish language broadcast can be heard on WFNO 830 AM with Emilio Peralta handling play-by-play and Marco Garcia serving as color analyst.

THE COACHES
Saints coach Sean Payton has posted a record of 37-23 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason. He is the lone head coach in club history to open a season with 12 straight wins and post a 12-game winning streak, and has the top all-time winning percentage (.617) for a Saints head coach.

His 19-11 (.633) home record and 18-12 (.600) road mark are both the top winning percentages in club history. Payton has recorded a 28-16 (.636) mark vs. NFC opponents. In 2006, he took the Saints to the NFC Championship and was named the NFL Coach of the Year by most major media outlets. Payton was hired as New Orleans' 14th head coach on January 18, 2006, after serving on the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff from 2003-2005. He has successfully overtaken a rebuilding project by reshaping the majority of the team's roster, with only nine players remaining from the 2005 campaign. Prior to joining the Cowboys, Payton served on the New York Giants staff from 1999-2002, including the final three seasons as offensive coordinator. A Super Bowl berth highlighted his tenure in his first full season in New York as offensive coordinator. Payton's prior NFL coaching experience came as quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1997-98.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith is in his second season with Atlanta after a five-year stint serving as the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-07. Smith has a 17-11 record, including an 11-5 mark in his first season that earned him Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year honors. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Smith spent four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens on their defensive coaching staff from 1999-2002. Before joining the NFL ranks, he had coached in the college ranks at San Diego State, Morehead State and Tennessee Tech.

IN THE NFC SOUTH
Under Payton, the Saints have enjoyed the top record among NFC South teams since 2006:

Team
Wins   
Losses  
Winning %
New Orleans Saints   
37
23.617
Carolina Panthers
32
28
.533
Atlanta Falcons
28
32
.467
Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
23
37
.383

ROAD WARRIORS
Since Payton became head coach in 2006, the Saints are tied for the fourth best record in the NFL at visiting stadiums with a 18-12 mark.

NFL's BEST REGULAR SEASON ROAD RECORDS SINCE 2006
Team Record
1. Indianapolis 23-7
2. New England 22-8
3. New York Giants 20-10
t4. New Orleans 18-12
t4. Dallas 18-12
t4. San Diego 18-12

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