<span style=""> <span style="text-decoration: underline;">NFC SOUTH CHAMPION NEW ORLEANS SAINTS PREPARE TO HOST DALLAS COWBOYS BEFORE NATIONAL AUDIENCE</span>
Another big-time night game in the Louisiana Superdome! Call this one "Saturday Night Live" as the New Orleans Saints (13-0), who set a franchise record for victories and clinched a first round playoff bye with their 26-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons yesterday, return home this Saturday night when they host the Dallas Cowboys (8-5). A national television audience will tune into the NFL Network for the big game that is slated to kickoff at 7:20 p.m. The game can also be seen locally on WGNO-Channel 26.
Saturday Night's contest has important postseason implications for both clubs. New Orleans can clinch a home field advantage for the playoffs with a win and a loss by the Minnesota Vikings at Carolina on Sunday evening. The Cowboys are in the thick of the NFC East divisional race, as well as in competition for a Wild Card spot, despite a 20-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon in Dallas.
"We know that this is a very talented team that is coming in here," Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said of the Cowboys. "They have a ton of weapons and are going to be battling hard for everything. We're certainly aware that they're in the thick of things for a spot at the postseason and will come in here ready to play. It's another big challenge for us, but one we are looking forward to."
Following Sunday's physical, hard-fought victory against their divisional rivals that wasn't decided until LB Jonathan Vilma stopped the Falcons one yard short of a first down on a fourth down play with 1:12 remaining, the Saints are one of only seven teams in NFL history to start a season 13-0.
Dallas leads the 22-game series, 14-8, although the Saints have won the last five meetings by a combined score of 135-64. The Saints also look to increase their all-time advantage in the Superdome, with the Black-and-Gold holding a 5-2 edge in contests played at the Superdome.
On Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the Saints overcame some fourth quarter adversity and held onto a key victory with an efficient performance on offense, while the defense forced Atlanta to kick field goals in the red zone during three-of-their-four trips into scoring territory and came up with several timely plays. After the clubs traded field goals on their first two possessions, Atlanta, scored another three pointer at the end of the first quarter to take a 6-3 lead.
However, the Saints then scored two straight touchdowns on throws from QB Drew Brees to RB Reggie Bush and WR Marques Colston to go up 16-6, before an Atlanta field goal as time expired in the first half cut their deficit to seven points. Bush had his second multiple touchdown game (first with two receiving touchdowns) of the season when he took a screen pass from Brees 21 yards into the end zone to extend the lead to 23-9 in the third quarter.
The Falcons then scored two straight touchdowns, to tie the score at 23-23 with 12:56 remaining in the contest. The Saints then embarked on a 16-play drive that ate up 8:14, taking the lead again on a 38-yard field goal by K Garrett Hartley.
On Atlanta's next possession, Vilma, picked off a pass at the Atlanta 23-yard line. The Saints failed to score and gave the ball back to Atlanta after a fake field goal attempt. On a fourth-and-two play at the New Orleans 46, Vilma stopped Falcons RB Jason Snelling one yard short of the first down to seal New Orleans' club-record 13th victory.
Brees completed 31-of-40 passes for 296 yards with three touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a 122.5 passer rating. His second scoring toss to Bush was his 120th in the Saints uniform, tying him for the franchise record.
Brees, a native of the Lone Star State, is looking forward to another battle with the Cowboys. "They have a lot of playmakers all throughout their roster and will certainly be a big test for us," Brees said. "We like being in the position in the standings that we have earned, but we still have a long way to go to accomplish the goals we set out for ourselves before the season started. One of the goals was to win the division, which we did. Another one was to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, which we did yesterday. Now it's about continuing to try to keep stacking up the W's and seeing where we are the regular season comes to an end."
"But it's always fun to play in front of our great fans, and it's always fun to play in a game that everyone is watching," Brees said. "It'll be a quick week with an extra day cut off, so our attention to detail and preparation have to be excellent. That's going to one of the things that challenges us this week and it's up to us to meet that challenge."