The Falcons and Saints renew the most heated and nastiest rivalry in the NFL. They’re both coming off of their bye weeks, as if the NFL schedule makers knew to set the stage for this game. I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence either, as this is the second consecutive season where both teams are going into a head-to-head matchup with each coming off a bye.
It’s taken 40 years to finally climb out of the 9-1 hole that the Falcons immediately jumped out to in the head-to-head matchup, but the New Orleans Saints have officially re-tied the series at 54-54 with their sweep of the Birds last season. This is the first time that it’s been tied since it was 1-1, in 1969.
The Saints have been Atlanta’s bogeyman in recent times, winning six of the last seven meetings and nine of the past 11. Coach Arthur Smith has gone 1-3 against New Orleans in his two seasons.
The last time Atlanta won consecutive games against the Saints came in the peak of the Dan Quinn era, with a victory to clinch the NFC South as well as a sweep in 2016, and a Thursday Night Football victory in the first meeting of 2017. That feels like a lifetime ago at this point.
The 4-9 Saints and the 5-8 Falcons met in a Week 15 matchup where each was still mathematically alive in pursuit of a terrible division, with the Falcons giving Desmond Ridder his first ever NFL start.
New Orleans jumped all over the visitors, with Andy Dalton leading them to a touchdown on the opening drive, the defense forcing a quick three and out and then Taysom Hill connecting with Rashid Shaheed for a 68-yard bomb to make it 14-0 on the second play of the second drive.
Atlanta only managed a field goal in the first half, but their defense did lock in and prevent any more points before the break. That set the stage to give them some life in the form of a Tyler Allgeier touchdown to cap off a second half opening drive. New Orleans promptly responded with an immediate touchdown drive of their own, with Juwan Johnson scoring his second of the game.
The Falcons’ defense once again locked in after that and the offense took advantage of a good Avery Williams punt return with an ensuing drive which ended on a Cordarrelle Patterson rushing score.
After the defense gave them a chance late, down 21-18, the offense faced a 4th-and-5 at midfield just outside the 2-minute warning, when Ridder hit Drake London in stride. London moved close to field goal range before fumbling the game away.
Both teams finished the season at 7-10, with the two losses to New Orleans ultimately costing Atlanta a division title.