The Falcons have a rare opportunity to squash the Saints’ playoff hopes by winning Sunday, and it’s a very welcome opportunity. When I heard that good news, the first thing I asked myself was how many times it had happened in the past.
It turns out a handful of times the Falcons have either had the opportunity to keep the Saints out of the playoffs entirely or at least have an outsized impact on where they were seeded in the playoffs, and it’s at the very least a mostly fun trip down memory lane to look back at them. We’ll do that today.
Unfortunately, opportunities have been plentiful for the Falcons to play spoiler in the Sean Payton and Drew Brees era and they’ve typically blown it. Let’s hope that changes Sunday.
Here’s a look back at the times the Falcons did play spoiler.
This is a fun year to remember. The Falcons were playoff hopefuls at 6-4 but had a tough road matchup against the hated Saints that they trailed in late. It took a couple of heroic drives to pull off the victory, but thanks partly to the famous “Big Ben Right” play that turned a Hail Mary and an intentional tipped pass into the deciding score. The Falcons would beat New Orleans a second time to finish the season 9-7 and make the postseason, while the Saints would finish 7-9 and out of the playoffs. That’s how you play spoiler.
The Falcons didn’t keep the Saints out of the playoffs, but they did kindly boot them from the postseason. Atlanta was a Wild Card team while the Saints had the NFC West title locked up, but Chris Miller’s 61 yard bomb to Michael Haynes in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 27-20 victory in the only time these two teams have met in the postseason.
2010: Failure, sort of
Both teams were gunning for the NFC South title when these two teams met in Week 16, and unfortunately the Falcons lost a 17-14 dud. A loss might have helped keep the Saints out of the playoffs with the Buccaneers nipping at their heels, but in hindsight the Saints making it in as the 5th seed was perfection, as the 7-9 Seahawks beat them in the Wild Card round.
The Falcons were 9-5 and looking to earn a critical victory over the 11-3 Saints to try to push their way to an unlikely NFC South title. Instead, they were absolutely destroyed by Drew Brees and company, with the stat padding quarterback looking to break Dan Marino’s single season yardage record against them and succeeding. It was an ugly, dumb game that ensured the Saints locked up the division, making it the only true sour note on this list.
I missed this one on initial publication, so thanks to alert readers who pointed it out. Heading into Week 16, the Saints were hanging in to the playoff race with the Panthers, though both teams were absolutely mediocre. The Falcons would end delivering the coup de grace to New Orleans by beating them 30-14, keyed by the Falcons scoring 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarter and capped off by a Robert McClain interception deep in Saints territory. By losing the following week against the Panthers, who ultimately won the division at 7-8-1, the Falcons ensured New Orleans wouldn’t make it.
2019: A subtle success
The Falcons didn’t keep the Saints out of the playoffs, but they did beat the hell out of the Saints 26-9 in an absolute shocker that would turn out to have profound implications for New Orleans. The loss helped ensure the 13-3 Saints would have to play on Wild Card Weekend instead of getting a bye, and they ultimately lost in hilarious fashion to the Vikings, our second favorite team of Saints killers. It was also the last time Matt Ryan and Drew Brees played against one another.
Nobody’s all that afraid of this Saints team with their quarterback situation and injuries, but the best thing to do is to keep them out of the postseason altogether. The Falcons have the opportunity to do so by winning Sunday, so let’s hope they take it.