The Atlanta Falcons once again renew the ugliest and meanest rivalry in the NFL when they travel to New Orleans for a face off against the hated Saints. These two teams met in Week 1 this season, and with a victory in that game New Orleans put themselves in position to do something monumental and decades in the making — they have a chance to finally the tie Atlanta in the head-to-head series history with a victory this weekend.
The Birds’ lead in the series history is razor thin at the moment, 54-53. After losing the first ever head-to-head matchup in 1967, Atlanta won in 1969 to even the series at 1-1, and that was the last time these teams have been tied. The Falcons then jumped out to a 9-1 lead through 1973.
Atlanta had a very impressive and seemingly insurmountable 38-24 head to head lead before the turn of the millennia, through 1999. After the teams had a 6-6 split between 2000-2005, to stand on a 44-30 Falcons lead, the Saints have been making up ground at a rampant pace. Since Sean Payton’s arrival in 2006, the Saints have gone 23-10 (including in the first game of the post-Payton era), to undo 38 years of Falcon dominance in just 16 short seasons.
The Falcons will be able to claim that they still beat the Saints in the only ever head-to-head matchup in the playoffs, back in the 1991 season, even if this thing gets tied, but they will lose an edge in this rivalry that they have enjoyed for decades. Victory, however, means at least another full year of maintaining that edge.
There was a lot of hype going into the Week 1 matchup between these two teams. New Orleans was thought of as a natural challenger for the division crown, even with Payton having moved on, while Atlanta was looked at as a rebuilding team after amassing the largest dead cap bill in the league this offseason. Nonetheless, it was always going to be a grudge match to start the campaign.
After Taysom Hill scored the first Saints touchdown of the season, the Falcons threw a punch that caught New Orleans completely off guard and off balance, running all over an imposing defense that had seldom given up 100 rushing yards to any singular player in the past half decade. Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 120 yards and Marcus Mariota added 72 of his own yards on the ground, each reaching the end zone and helping build a 26-10 Falcon lead in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, Atlanta choked, allowing New Orleans to score the last 17 points in the game, all in the fourth quarter, to pull out a famous victory. The biggest point of contention came with 1:42 remaining in the game, when Atlanta faced a 4th-and-1 from the New Orleans 42-yard-line and opted to punt, up only two, when getting just one more yard would have ended the game. The Saints, of course, went downfield in four plays to set up a Wil Lutz field goal attempt to pull ahead, and to make the Falcons pay for their cowardice.
The Falcons got one more opportunity thanks to a foolish unnecessary roughness penalty on Marshon Lattimore, but Younghoe Koo’s 63-yard field attempt for the win was blocked.