If you're wondering how Falcons players feel about the rivalry with the Saints and what it means to them as they prepare for today's game, many players were happy to share their perspective on the rivalry during open locker room sessions this week.
Harry Douglas is looking forward to playing in the Super Dome, his home away from home. "It's my favorite dome to play in besides the Georgia Dome," Douglas said. "Whether it's tough - I mean, I just love a crowd. I love the atmosphere. I love when the crowd gets quiet. I mean, I just love it. You always want to play in atmospheres like that."
Roddy White said that the team knows it will be a tough game, but that's exactly what they want. "To go down there to New Orleans – we know it’s going to be tough," White said. "We’re going to battle all day long, so it’s going to be hard, and we like it that way. You want to go down there and get you a W and the plane ride will be very good on the way back."
The team obviously has a lot riding on today's game, and that fact is not lost on the Falcons. Kemal Ishmael said that it's a playoff atmosphere. "Yeah, especially since it's a playoff game right now for us," Ishmael said. "Emotions are running high, and I mean, we have bad blood with the Saints. They don't like us, and we don't like them. So it's going to be a fun game - a dogfight out there."
Robert McClain also mentioned the bad blood between these two teams. "We both know each other well. We play each other twice a year," McClain said. "There's bad blood all over the field between us and the Saints, but that's part of football. Everybody's going to be bad blood all over the NFL. But that's the profession we're in, and you have to go out there and battle to get the win."
Even though this is Dwight Lowery's first season with the Falcons, he noticed the intensity when these two teams met in week one. "It was pretty intense the first time we played them in the opener," Lowery said. "Personally, it was my first game played in a while, and I just, from there, I noticed the intensity was different. You have the adrenaline of the first real game, and plus you're playing your rival. So we anticipate that plus more this Sunday."
As a rookie, James Stone is still very well aware of the rivalry. "You definitely get a sense that this right here is a rivalry," Stone said. "It kind of makes you think of college rivalries, like where it's a really anticipated game and it's really heated on both sides. So [I'm] looking forward to going out there and playing in that."
Roddy White says he'd put this Falcons and Saints rivalry up against any other rivalry in the NFL. ""The way that we go after each other, the Saints and the Falcons, and how that crowd and how everybody else is into the game," White said. "It's a big-time rivalry in the NFL, and you just feel the energy, the atmosphere when those two teams get on the field and how they go at each other, and so many of the games have been close and it's come down to the end. You know, right there, somebody's winning and somebody's losing."
And nobody's losing sight of what's on the line today. "We both have a lot to play for and it's against one of our biggest rivals in the conference, and it's going to be a game," Robert McClain said. "It's going to be about who wants it more, who has more will to get the win in the end."
Rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen is focused on the 1-0 mentality. "We've got to take it one game at a time, and everybody knows it's either win or go home," Allen said. "That's really how it goes - win or go home. So we're just going out there to play as hard as we can, just to give it our all. That's all we can really ask for."
As far as Devonta Freeman is concerned, every game is a rivalry game, and his preparation doesn't change. "I prepare the same every week. I've been playing rivalry games since I was a lot younger than I am now, but every game is the same to me," Freeman said. "I feel like every game's a rivalry game, and I prepare to the best of my ability, and I give it my all in practice. I feel like I get better in practice, so whatever situations come to me during the game and stuff or if it's getting tougher, crunch time in the fourth quarter, I try to prepare so I won't be shocked at the moment. So every game's a rivalry game to me, basically."
Steven Jackson said that the rivalry plus what's at stake should make for a great game. "I mean, it's going to be juiced because it's a rivalry game," Jackson said. "But what's at stake, even more, absolutely. It's going to be incredible, but it's a rivalry game. It could be 0-0, beginning of the season, like it was a few months ago. So when these two teams get together, it's going to be intense."
And for what it's worth, Jackson thinks that being in a position to win the division with a losing record is probably making some other teams jealous. "I think a lot of teams wish they were in our position right now," Jackson said. "A lot of teams got eliminated last week, but we still have a chance to go out, win this game, and still fight for a playoff spot."
Spirits were high in the locker room on Friday when I spoke with Jacquizz Rodgers about the game, and Rodgers pointed to the locker room atmosphere as evidence of the heightened sense of anticipation about this game. "You can just tell. Even in here, you hear everybody talking and riled up, because we know what's at stake," Rodgers said, "and we're going to go out there and lay it on the line because we know what we're playing for this week."
As far as Matt Ryan's concerned, it all comes down to execution by the players. "This one always tends to be fairly enthusiastic, and it's fun to be a part of that," Ryan said. "I think with where we're at and what's on the line, everybody understands what it is, and at the end of the day, all that stuff is fun to talk about and fun to write about, but when you get on the field in between the lines it all goes out. It comes down to playing the game and playing it well."