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Falcons rivalry still matters to Saints

11/21/2013

In theory, you could wonder if tonight's game against the 2-8 Atlanta Falcons could be considered a "trap game" for the New Orleans Saints (8-2). It comes sandwiched between an emotional win over the San Francisco 49ers and a looming showdown against the Seattle Seahawks.

But there's no way a Saints-Falcons game could ever be a trap game. Not with the passion that has existed in this rivalry for the past 40-plus years -- especially over the past five.

"You feel it the moment you step foot on the field," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "You feel it from the fans, you feel it from the other payers, you feel it from every which way.

"Whatever their record is, it doesn't matter when we get into the building 'cause it's still an elite football team versus an elite football team."

Jordan and Saints center Brian de la Puente, both of whom played college football at Cal, compared the Saints-Falcons rivalry to the Cal-Stanford rivalry.

"You know in college when you play your rival game, it doesn't really matter what everybody's record is. And I think this game is similar," de la Puente said. "When I was in college, Stanford was not the perennial powerhouse they are today. But it was the 'Big Game,' and it didn't matter. It was gonna be a close one, and it was gonna be a hard fight because there was a lot of pride on the line. And I think it's similar with Atlanta and the Saints."

Both players also insisted that no game would be a trap game anyway, because they have stuck to the mantra this year that every game is the most important because it's the next one.

As Saints quarterback Drew Brees likes to say, they try to treat every game like a "one-game season."

Brees is such an intense competitor who doesn't usually need any extra reason to get motivated. But he certainly hasn't forgotten what happened the last time he played in the Georgia Dome -- on a Thursday night game in Week 13 last year. Brees threw five interceptions in a 23-13 loss, arguably the worst performance of his tenure with New Orleans.

Brees said that memory was more prevalent when the Saints hosted the Falcons in Week 1 of this season, though, when the Saints beat Atlanta 23-17.

"[I felt that] playing them the first game of the season, just knowing the last time we played that wasn't a good day," Brees said. "You want to kind of get past that and get on to better things. I feel like we're past that. We've played enough games in that stadium, knowing the types of games they've always been."

The Falcons fought the Saints down to the last play in that Week 1 loss until the Saints broke up a game-winning pass attempt in the end zone.

Since, the Falcons have obviously fallen on hard times -- especially since losing their top offensive weapon Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury. Atlanta has lost four straight games heading into this rematch.

Asked if he's shocked to see the Falcons at 2-8, Saints coach Sean Payton said he wouldn't use that exact word.

"I think in our league there is such a fine line that you deal with, especially when it comes to injuries," Payton said. "I know how difficult it is to win in our league, and I know how often these games come down to the final plays, making a play in the end and having a chance to win a game. I think when you add the injury element to it, it obviously is that much more difficult."