The defending champion New Orleans Saints would like to remind everyone that they haven’t gone anywhere.
After a stirring 17-14 victory in the Georgia Dome Monday night, the Saints are in the playoffs. They are tied for the third best record in the NFL at 11-4, and they are healthier than they have been all season. They might just wind up back in Atlanta in three weeks.
The Saints can be no lower than the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. They could still get a playoff bye if the Zombie John Fox Panthers win in Atlanta next week, but that’s about as likely as Jimmy Clausen winning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
This game wasn’t about winning the division. It was a chance for the Saints to build on their progress during the season. It was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs, where they will likely have to win on the road to make it back to the Super Bowl.
Drew Brees, who was under duress all night, tried to do much and was picked off twice in the fourth quarter. One terrible decision was returned for a touchdown by Falcons lineman Chauncey Davis.
But when the game was on the line, it was Brees and not Matt Ryan who closed. The Saints embarked on an epic 13-play, 92-yard fourth quarter drive that was capped by a six-yard score to tight end Jimmy Graham.
The Falcons responded by going three-and-out, timidly punting on fourth-and-six, never to go on offense again. Atlanta was held to only 215 yards by a creative Saints defense. The Falcons played their sixth straight one score game at home, and it finally bit them.
Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune pointed out that Graham’s score came on the same play as the go-ahead score to Jeremy Shockey in the Super Bowl. These 2010 Saints are different, but still dangerous.
They helped remind everyone that the NFC tournament is wide open this year.