Saints Preparing For Desperate Falcons

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints shakes hands with Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons after winning in overtime at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons suffered another gut-wrenching loss Sunday, something to which they have grown accustomed -- losing on the last play of the game for the third time this season.

But with the rival New Orleans Saints waiting for a Thursday night game, there's no time for self pity, especially if Atlanta wants to keep its razor-thin playoff hopes alive.

"I think the opponent we're going against, the stage that it's on, makes it pretty easy to be able to turn around quickly and put this one behind us," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said.

The Saints are 9-1 and have won nine straight after Sunday's 48-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints beat Atlanta 43-37 in overtime in Week 3.

Atlanta (4-6) cannot afford to lose any of its final six games and have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. Optimists point out that Green Bay pulled off the same trick two years ago and reached the NFC Championship Game -- where they lost to the Falcons. Realists understand a 10-6 record is no guarantee of making the playoffs.

Tackle Jake Matthews said the Falcons must win the game. Period.

"We've got to win," Matthews said. "We just have to prepare well this week. We aren't going to drink some magic potion and it's going to happen. We have to take what we do during the week and execute better during the game because we have a good game plan and have good things going at times. We just have to do it more consistently and finish more drives."

Said cornerback Robert Alford: "At the end of the day it's going to push you. With the guys in this room, it's going to push us to greater things."

"Whether it's easier or harder, it doesn't matter," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We have to go back to work and have got to play on Thursday."

Ryan said it would be important to keep the team's young players focused for the final push.

"You have to stay on them, too," Ryan said. "You just have to say, 'No, listen, we are done with yesterday.' We learn from it and we get to work and start to prepare. (Head coach) Dan (Quinn) always sets up a really good schedule for us on Thursday games to get us ready to go and that will be the case this week as well."

The Saints have loftier goals, having put themselves in position to claim a first-round playoff bye and perhaps the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

They are tied with the Los Angeles Rams for fewest losses in the NFC and hold the tiebreaker over the Rams (10-1) by virtue of a 45-35 victory against them three weeks ago.

They have taken a three-game lead in the NFC South in their quest to repeat as division champion.

Nonetheless, New Orleans still has a lot of work to do within the division in addition to trying to reach its conference-wide goals.

The Saints are 1-1 in the division and have four games left against division opponents, including two against second-place Carolina. New Orleans' game against Atlanta is their last home game before a stretch of three straight road games that includes divisional games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay.

In other words, the Saints aren't guaranteed anything other than a winning season and they can still lose the division if they don't continue to take care of business.

The Falcons are a long shot to win the division, but they know that a win against the Saints could help them in the wild-card fight.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan said he expects Atlanta to be a desperate team just as Philadelphia was when the defending Super Bowl champions came into the Superdome on Sunday with a 4-5 record. The Saints had little trouble with them, prevailing 48-7.

"We knew we were going to get the best punches from Philly this past week," Jordan said. "(Saints head coach Sean Payton) said we were going to treat the team like they were backed into a corner. We are going to take their best punches and I think we took those in stride and now Atlanta's headed to us and we're going to get more of the same thing. This is something we have to take care of."

The Saints are operating on a short week, but so are the Falcons, who lost at home to Dallas on Sunday.

"Usually these Thursday games are division games," Payton said, "but it helps when you played them already and you don't have a lot of time and you're kind of really having to cover what you do in a normal week in two days."

New Orleans' Week 3 win was the second victory in its current nine-game winning streak.

Saints running back Mark Ingram II missed that game while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.

"It's a strong rivalry," Ingram said. "It's a division opponent. Lots of battles. Many, many battles, tough, hard-fought games. We know what the rivalry consists of. We know it's a division game and what that means so we have to go out here and just handle business."

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