While the Falcons suffered a tough loss at home Monday night to the division-rival Saints, a team that they could run into again in the playoffs, they shouldn't allow their confidence to be shaken much. Both teams have clinched playoff spots, but Atlanta is still in a better position to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
All the Falcons need to do is beat the Panthers in Week 17 at the Georgia Dome. The 17-14 loss to New Orleans did turn the Carolina game into a must-win situation — if Atlanta loses, the Saints can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win over the Buccaneers next week, and Atlanta would tumble down to the fifth seed — but there probably isn't another team out there that the Falcons would rather play than the 2-13 Panthers, who have already clinched the first overall pick in the draft.
The PFW Spin
Atlanta's offense was anemic on a night when its defensive line intercepted QB Drew Brees twice and returned one of the picks for a touchdown. The Falcons were held to 215 total yards, converted on just 3-of-12 third-down attempts and produced only one offensive TD.
QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner were silenced, as Ryan threw for a season-low 148 yards and Turner rushed 17 times for just 48 yards (2.8 yards per carry).
It was a sloppy night for both offenses, but while Brees' interceptions — he had already thrown a career-high 19 heading into the game — had been a story line for several weeks, the Falcons' errors were made by players that usually avoid such mishaps. Steady 12th-year veteran C Todd McClure failed to get the ball off the turf on a rare botched snap in the second quarter, and MLB Jonathan Vilma fell on the loose ball. The Saints scored their first TD of the night five plays later after taking over on Atlanta's 34-yard line. Turner, who hadn't fumbled since Oct. 18, 2009, coughed one up at the Saints' one-yard line early in the third quarter, and Saints LB Marvin Mitchell recovered it.
Despite all that, the Falcons had the lead late in the fourth quarter before Brees led the Saints on a 13-play, 90-yard TD drive that lasted for 7:11 and culminated in a six-yard pass from Brees to TE Jimmy Graham, who was matched up one-on-one against SS William Moore.
These two teams have now played twice, and each club won once by three points. The Falcons' win came in overtime back in Week Three after Saints PK Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal that would have won it for New Orleans. Falcons PK Matt Bryant connected on his 46-yarder for the victory.
It would be no surprise if this season's series was decided in a third meeting in late January, and there's a good chance the same venue will play host to that game if it takes place.