This is one of two games that we emphatically mark and underline on the calendar every single year, with the other game being the second meeting with the Saints. No matter what the circumstances are surrounding the season, the matchup against the New Orleans Saints will always be an important one because of the mutual disrespect shared by these franchises.
That disrespect stems far beyond just the current makeup of these teams. This is a rivalry and a hatred that had the seeds of disrespect planted long before any player on either roster was born, and before anybody in either front office or ownership had anything to do with professional football. Those seeds have sprouted into a forest of detestation. This goes back to the beginning.
One of the major aspects playing into this intense rivalry is the fact that each team has beaten up on the other about the same amount over their respective histories. Atlanta leads the all time series 53-51.
It seems as if the Saints were the only team whom the Falcons could beat in the early 1970s. After New Orleans won the first ever matchup in 1967, Atlanta rattled off nine consecutive wins between 1969 and 1973, including a 62-7 shellacking in the Bayou which stands to this day as the most lopsided game in this series.
Archie Manning helped bring New Orleans some success in the mid-70s, as the Saints went 5-2 against the Falcons between 1974 and 1977, before Steve Bartkowski put the fanbase of Louisiana through an extended form of psychological torture from 1978 on. Bart led the Birds on a 9-1 run in this series, including a couple of last second victories in 1978 which helped Atlanta to their first ever playoff appearance. I’ll touch on Big Ben Right a bit more in the follow up version of this article before the return matchup against the Saints in Week 18.
The teams traded extended successes throughout the late ‘80s all of the ‘90s. The Saints’ best ever run was when they went 8-1 between 1986 and 1991. The Falcons had their best ever run in the second half of the ‘90s, when they won 10 consecutive games against their rivals between 1995 and 1999 — five straight years of sweeps.
The most important game ever between these franchises happened in 1991, when they met in the Wildcard Round of the 1991 playoffs. It was New Orleans’ first ever division title and their first ever playoff appearance, and they were disposed of by Deion Sanders and the “2 legit 2 quit” Falcons.
Unfortunately for the Birds, the Drew Brees era between 2006-2020 led to great sustained success for the Saints in this series. New Orleans has gone 21-9 against the Falcons over that time period, almost completely erasing Atlanta’s once 14-game advantage.
The most important game in the history of New Orleans football happened in the first matchup of that era. The game where the Saints reopened the Louisiana Superdome following their return after Hurricane Katrina, where Steve Gleason blew the roof off of the place with a first quarter punt block. The Saints won that game 23-3.
Sean Payton’s bunch is on a 6-1 run against Atlanta since 2017. He has been in New Orleans since 2006. Atlanta is currently on its fifth coach since 2006.
The last meeting between the Falcons and Saints came with playoff positioning on the line for New Orleans, and nothing but the chance to play spoiler on the line for Atlanta — the same way it has been in every matchup of this series since 2017.
Atlanta at 4-7 was facing a Saints team that had an opportunity to reach double digit wins, in Week 13 of last season. It was the second meeting in three weeks between the two teams, after Taysom Hill led New Orleans to a blowout win in the Bayou in Week 11.
The Falcons made defensive mistakes and made Hill, who had never played consistent minutes as a quarterback since his days at BYU, look like a savvy veteran at the position in not only this matchup but the one in Week 11 as well. Hill put up over 300 yards of offense (including 83 rushing yards), and registered a passer rating of 107.0 in what was a catastrophic embarrassment from the Falcons.
The Saints scored a touchdown in each of the first three quarters and that was enough as their defense shut down Atlanta’s offense for the most part, rendering the run game completely inept. The Birds pulled back a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 21-16, and were actually driving late in the fourth quarter to win the game.
At the New Orleans 13-yard-line, a 3rd and 2 run from Todd Gurley where he tried to cut outside before getting pulled down by DeMario Davis lost seven yards and essentially killed Atlanta’s hope of playing spoiler.
This was the first loss of a five-game streak the Falcons suffered to end the season. The Saints went on to win the division for the fourth consecutive year, but were promptly dispatched of in the Divisional Round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.