Falcons vs. Saints: The Last Decade of the NFL's Only SEC Rivalry
SEC football may very well reign supreme in the South, but since the Falcons and Saints first met in 1967 busloads of Saints and Falcons fans have traveled between Atlanta and New Orleans to bring that same SEC passion to the NFL's version of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.
As usual, Sunday's game between the two bitter rivals does not lack for storylines, including the Falcons' quest to remain unbeaten, the Saints' fight to stay relevant in the NFC playoff race, and Saints LB/traitor (depending on who you ask) Curtis Lofton taking on his former teammates for the first time.
As we look ahead to Sunday, I thought it was only appropriate to reminisce on the ten best games from the past decade of this uniquely southern rivalry.
November 17, 2002: Falcons 24, Saints 17
After leading the Falcons to a thrilling 37-35 shootout win over the Saints in New Orleans, Michael Vick did all of the scoring as the Falcons completed a season sweep of the Saints in the first year of the NFC South Division.
Saints' (and later Falcons') wide receiver Joe Horn added fuel to Atlanta's fire prior to this game by claiming that the Falcons were not worthy of being called the Saints' rivals.
October 16, 2005: Falcons 34, Saints 31
This game was played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, one of three ''home'' stadiums that the Saints used while they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With the game tied at 31, Michael Vick put together what we now know as a "Matty Ice" drive to get the Falcons into field goal position with under a minute left in the game.
Falcons’ kicker Todd Peterson missed his initial attempt from 41 yards away, but a controversial five-yard holding penalty on the Saints allowed Peterson to go from goat to hero. The Falcons improved to 4-2, and the Saints fell to 2-4 en route to a 3-13 campaign.
September 25, 2006: Saints 23, Falcons 3
Call it revenge for the 2005 game in San Antonio. I remember thinking that the NFL had sent the Falcons into an ambush when I heard the Superdome crowd roaring that Monday night for the first Saints game in New Orleans since Katrina.
Steve Gleason's block of then-Falcons' punter Michael Koenen's punt is now memorialized by a monument outside of the Superdome. However, in the spirit of this old feud, the Falcons would not allow the Saints to use the Falcons' logo on the statue. This game was also the home debut for Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
December 10, 2007: Saints 34, Falcons 14
The teams met on Monday Night Football once again, this time at the Georgia Dome with the Falcons struggling through a season that was over before it started thanks to Michael Vick's suspension.
The Falcons' lone highlight in the Saints' romp came when quarterback Chris Redman found Roddy White in the end zone for a first quarter touchdown.
White flashed a t-shirt bearing the words ''Free Mike Vick'' to the ESPN camera during his touchdown celebration. This contest also marked the last game that Bobby Petrino coached for the Falcons before abruptly leaving the team for Arkansas.
November 9, 2008: Falcons 34, Saints 20
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan led the Falcons to their first win over New Orleans since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived in 2006.
Falcons fans may also remember this game because two underachieving draft picks, Chevis Jackson and Jerious Norwood, each came up with big touchdown plays to help seal the win.
November 2, 2009: Saints 35, Falcons 27
To borrow a word from some of my fellow Atlantans, this was one of the ''crunkest'' games between the two rivals in recent memory. The 4-2 Falcons came into the Superdome on Monday Night Football to take on the 6-0 Saints, whose high-octane offense was racking up more points than the New Orleans Hornets at the time.
The Falcons gave the Saints all that they could handle in a game that was full of big plays, including a Kroy Biermann fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown, a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by Saints' corner Jabari Greer right before halftime, and a 68-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White.
The game finally ended when Darren Sharper picked off Matt Ryan's Hail Mary attempt after the Falcons recovered an onside kick.
September 26, 2010: Falcons 27, Saints 24 (OT)
The game went into overtime after the teams took turns leading each other during regulation. There was field goal drama once again as Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal that would have won the game in overtime.
On the ensuing Falcons possession, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant had his attempt blocked, but Saints coach Sean Payton had called timeout prior to the kick.
Bryant nailed his second attempt to give Atlanta the victory. Since the 2005 Falcons' win came in San Antonio, this was the Falcons' first win in New Orleans since the Michael Vick-Aaron Brooks shootout in 2002.
December 27, 2010: Saints 17, Falcons 14
The Saints became the first visiting team to win at the Georgia Dome in 2010 after Drew Brees found Jimmy Graham on a short slant route late in the fourth quarter of another Monday Night Football classic between these teams.
Both defenses played well in this game; as the Saints forced a Michael Turner fumble inside of the New Orleans' 1-yard line, and Falcons' defensive end Chauncey Davis returned a Drew Brees interception for a touchdown.
The Saints really ruffled the Falcons' feathers when some of the Saints posed for a picture on the Falcons' logo at midfield after the game.
November 13, 2011: Saints 26, Falcons 23 (OT)
Another November matchup that had a playoff-like intensity as first place in the NFC South was on the line.
The Falcons rallied from a 10-point deficit late in the game to force overtime.
After Falcons' fullback Mike Cox fumbled a third down reception out of bounds in overtime, Falcons' coach Mike Smith decided to go for it on fourth down with less than yard to go from his own 29-yard line. The Saints stuffed Michael Turner and won the game.
December 26, 2011: Saints 45, Falcons 16
Yet another Monday Night Football matchup between these two (see the trend?), but this one was not close after halftime.
Drew Brees beat Dan Marino's single season passing record when he hit Darren Sproles for a 9-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Just like in 2008 and 2010, the Saints handed the Falcons their last regular-season loss before the playoffs.
November 11, 2012: Falcons (8-0) at Saints (3-5)
What will 2012 bring? Tune in on Sunday and find out. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @AlBruce7 and share your favorite Saints-Falcons memories. #RiseUp vs. #WhoDat 2012