8:25 PM ET, November 21, 2013
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
With the roles reversed in 2013, the visiting Saints can sweep the season series by extending the Falcons' longest skid in six years to five games Thursday night.
The return of coach Sean Payton and addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has helped New Orleans (8-2) leave the dismal 7-9, bounty-scandal season of 2012 in the past and thrive once again. The Saints are 1 1/2 games behind Seattle for the best record in the NFC and looking for a third straight victory after rallying from a six-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat San Francisco 23-20 at home Sunday.
"These are the (games) that just sharpen you, build confidence moving forward," quarterback Drew Brees said.
Injuries, combined with a poor running game and struggling defense, has Atlanta (2-8) tied for the worst record in the conference after finishing an NFC-best 13-3 and coming within one win of the Super Bowl last season. The Falcons lost 41-28 to Tampa Bay on Sunday and have dropped four straight for the first time since a six-game slide in 2007 -- the season before coach Mike Smith's arrival.
"Clearly, we're 10 games into this thing and certainly far, far away from where we want to be," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We've got six games to go. It's about going out there and taking pride in what you do."
After New Orleans rallied from a 10-0 hole to post a 23-17 season-opening victory over the Falcons, it appeared the teams would mix it up for the South Division title.
The Saints have done their part, starting 5-0 and riding an offense that ranks second in the NFL with 419.1 yards and 28.8 points per game. Brees is completing 68.2 percent of his passes and is second to Peyton Manning with 3,369 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
He was 30 of 43 for 305 yards with a TD and an interception to help the Saints overcome two other turnovers by leading them to three fourth-quarter field goals last week.
"You're going to have games like this," he said. "This game means more the way that we won it."
After running for a season-high 242 yards in a 49-17 rout of Dallas on Nov. 10, New Orleans outrushed San Francisco 92-81 and held Frank Gore to 48 yards on 13 attempts.
The Saints allowed 440.1 yards and 28.4 points per contest in 2012, but rank fourth with 305.4 yards and fifth with 18.3 points this season. However, they expect to be without cornerback Jabari Greer after he suffered a knee injury against the 49ers.
New Orleans held the Falcons to 367 total yards and gave up seven points after the first quarter in September. Brees threw for 357 with two TDs and an interception, bouncing back from a no-TD, five-interception performance in a 23-13 loss Nov. 29 that snapped the Saints' three-game winning streak at Atlanta.
Since that defeat, Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 straight games, totaling 38 with 11 picks during the run.
His first TD of the season went to Marques Colston, who became New Orleans' all-time leader in receiving yards with 7,923 after recording 80 on five catches Sunday. Colston has three touchdowns in his last four games against Atlanta.
Though the Saints have won 12 of 15 over the Falcons, they understand the challenge that awaits on a short week against a desperate team.
"This is a test that we're going to have to try and overcome," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "Honestly, why not have it? It's a division opponent, it's our rival. It's going to talk a lot about the fortitude and what we have on this team."
Atlanta is allowing 29.2 points per game -- 29th in the league -- and yielded 108 in its past three, but owner Arthur Blank remains confident in Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
"I absolutely do. And, they've earned it over the past five years," Blank said. "It's a tough business. We've had a lot of injuries, and issues on top of the injuries. These guys are proven leaders and proven by success. ... They'll do the work that has to be done with my full support."
The Falcons might have bottomed out Sunday when they trailed 38-6 to a Tampa Bay team that earned its first win the week before.
Ryan threw an 80-yard pass to Harry Douglas to extend his streak of games with at least one touchdown to 16, but he was sacked three times and one of his two interceptions was returned for a score. Ryan has five TDs and nine INTs in the last four contests after throwing 13 with three picks in the first six.
The Falcons were averaging 64.3 rushing yards going into the Bucs game, but gained a season-high 152 with most coming in the fourth quarter. Little-used Antone Smith ran for 88 on two carries, including a 50-yard score.
Smith could see more time over Steven Jackson, who has gained 192 yards and not scored a rushing TD in six games this season. However, Jackson ran for a season-high 77 yards on 11 attempts against New Orleans in Week 1.
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|Avg Points Allowed||17.8||28.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||NO|
|Rush Yds Allowed||NO|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New Orleans leads 17-9|
|Sep 8, 2013||NO 23, ATL 17|
|Nov 29, 2012||NO 13, @ATL 23|
|Nov 11, 2012||NO 31, ATL 27|
|Dec 26, 2011||NO 45, ATL 16|
|Nov 13, 2011||NO 26, @ATL 23|
|Dec 27, 2010||NO 17, @ATL 14|
|Sep 26, 2010||NO 24, ATL 27|
|Dec 13, 2009||NO 26, @ATL 23|
|Nov 2, 2009||NO 35, ATL 27|
|Dec 7, 2008||NO 29, ATL 25|
|Nov 9, 2008||NO 20, @ATL 34|
|Dec 10, 2007||NO 34, @ATL 14|
|Oct 21, 2007||NO 22, ATL 16|
|Nov 26, 2006||NO 31, @ATL 13|
|Sep 25, 2006||NO 23, ATL 3|
|Dec 12, 2005||NO 17, @ATL 36|
|Oct 16, 2005||NO 31, ATL 34|
|Dec 26, 2004||NO 26, ATL 13|
|Nov 28, 2004||NO 21, @ATL 24|
|Nov 16, 2003||NO 23, ATL 20|
|Oct 19, 2003||NO 45, @ATL 17|
|Nov 17, 2002||NO 17, @ATL 24|
|Oct 27, 2002||NO 35, ATL 37|
|Dec 9, 2001||NO 28, @ATL 10|
|Oct 21, 2001||NO 13, ATL 20|
The Falcons fall to 2-9, a far cry from this same point last season when they were 10-1 and tied for the best record in the NFL through 11 games.[+]
Falcons Through 11 Games Last 2 Seasons
The Falcons have struggled against play-action passing this season. Drew Brees completed 7-of-11 passes for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on play-action Thursday night. - Brees' 10 play-action touchdown passes this season are second-most in the league, trailing Peyton Manning (11).[+]
Falcons Defense vs Play Action, This Season
Drew Brees came in needing 38 yards to move past Warren Moon and into 5th all-time in passing yards. He is now less than 500 yards from becoming the 5th to reach 50,000 career passing yards. Next up on the list for Brees is John Elway.[+]
Drew Brees completed another deep touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham Thursday, a 44-yard score in the second quarter. Brees' 13 touchdown passes and Graham's 6 touchdown receptions on throws 15 or more yards downfield both lead the league this season. - Drew Brees has thrown 2 interceptions on passes at least 15 yards downfield this season. Last season, Brees was tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions on such throws.[+]
Drew Brees Passing 15+ Yards Downfield, This Season
- Jimmy Graham caught his 11th touchdown Thursday night, tying Calvin Johnson for the league lead. Graham also posted his 6th 100-yard receiving game of the season, tied with A.J. Green for most in the league. The only other tight end to record 6 100-yard receiving games in a season is Tony Gonzalez (2000 and 2004). - Jimmy Graham recorded 26 yards after contact, his most in a game in his career. - The Saints have forced 12 fumbles on defense this season. The Saints forced 11 fumbles on defense all of last season.
The Saints tied their season high with 5 sacks Thursday night with 4 coming in the second half. The Saints sacked Matt Ryan on 16.0% of his dropbacks in the second half, the highest rate the Falcons have allowed in any half this season. The Saints have 19 sacks in the second half this season, tied for the third-most in the league. The Saints have recorded a sack on 9.0% of opponent dropbacks this season, tied with the Rams for the highest rate in the league. Last season, the Saints recorded a sack on 4.6% of opponent dropbacks, the fourth-lowest in the league.
Drew Brees was 11-of-17 for 134 yards and a touchdown when the Falcons rushed 5 or more defenders. The Falcons brought added pressure on nearly half of Brees' dropbacks (17-of-35). The Falcons have allowed 14 touchdown passes when sending 5 or more rushers, most in the league. - In his first game against the Falcons this season, Brees was 8-of-9 for 148 yards and a touchdown when the Falcons rushed 5 or more defenders.
ESPN Stats & Information