October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; A statue titled Rebirth featuring the likeness of former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason blocking a punt by former Atlanta Falcons punter Michael Koenen on September 25, 2006 as seen outside before a game against the San Diego Chargers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons is one capped to the brim with hatred and disgust, and it’s phenomenal. The Dirty Birds lead the all-time series with a 47-43 edge, including a victory in the 1991 NFC Wild Card game.
However, since the Black and Gold hit the Big Easy with Sean Payton and the biggest free agent signing in the organization’s 39-year history at the time, it’s been a whole different ball game. Drew Brees and Coach Payton have been nothing less than spectacular, giving their team a 13-3 record against Atlanta since their talents were called upon for a job in the Crescent City. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top-five Saints moments against the Falcons during the Brees-Payton era.
5. November 26, 2006 – Saints fluster Michael Vick
It was a frustrating day for QB Michael Vick and the Falcons as the quarterback was held to only 84 yards through the air. Drew Brees finished the day with 349 yards just one week after a 510-yard day against the Cincinnati Bengals.
New Orleans dominated Atlanta for the second time that season with a 31-13 win on the road in the Georgia Dome. After the game, the agitated Vick was caught flipping off Falcons fans in the audience while making his way off the field, giving true meaning to the nickname “Dirty Bird.”
4. November 2, 2009 – Saints hold off a late Falcons comeback with a Darren Sharper interception
New Orleans was in the midst of an undefeated season , but Atlanta was not going down without a fight in the Superdome. The Falcons led after the first quarter 14-7, but the Saints answered back with a surge of 21 points to go on top 35-14.
QB Matt Ryan and the Dirty Birds’ offense made a nice little comeback to minimize the Black and Gold’s lead to only eight points. In the final moments of the contest, Ryan drove down the field in an attempt to tie the game, but was picked off by safety Darren Sharper on the Saints’ 5-yard line, capping off a 35-27 Saints win. The final three games were lost, but New Orleans marched right on through to take home the Lombardi Trophy that year.
3. September 28, 2013 – Sean Payton’s return
Sean Payton was back for the first time since 2011 and the “Bountygate” scandal was in the past. The New Orleans Saints were fueled with energy and ready to show the Falcons that the previous season’s performance was not who they really were. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was erupting with noise during what was a nail biter down to the very last second.
New Orleans was up 23-17, but the Falcons had one last possession – a touchdown and extra point would win the game. With under four minutes to go, Atlanta had 80 yards of field in front of them. QB Matt Ryan drove the offense 77 yards down to the red zone.
As fans’ blood started pumping and stomachs started twisting, the Saints’ red-zone defense stepped up and was superb. On fourth and goal on the three-yard line, Ryan went to TE Tony Gonzalez for the win. As the crowd erupted, the ball was tipped up and intercepted by safety Roman Harper, resulting in the Saints’ 23-17 victory in the return of Sean Payton.
2. December 26, 2011 – Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record
Brees entered the Monday night matchup in the Superdome with 4,780 yards. Only 305 were needed to surpass Marino’s 5,084 set in 1984. By halftime, Drew had already thrown for 230 yards. Just 75 to go and the record was his to own.
After a slow third quarter, he entered the fourth with only 30 yards to go. On the drive that capped off the deal, Brees hit Marques Colston for a 12-yard gain and then Devery Henderson for 11 yards. On 2nd and goal, Drew found Darren Sproles for a touchdown, completing the quest for the record with 5,087 yards. The Saints demolished Atlanta 45-16 and clinched the NFC South division title.
1. September 25, 2006 – Rebirth/Steve Gleason blocks punt
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, the New Orleans Saints were without a home for an entire season. A year and a month later, the team reopened the Superdome for the return of the Black and Gold in a Monday night contest against their most hated rivals.
Before the year of the Super Bowl run, it was the most meaningful game in the history of the organization. During a time where it seemed like all hope was lost, the New Orleans Saints helped the community stay resilient by dominating the Falcons 23-3 and kick-starting the rebirth of the Crescent City.
Of course, the most memorable play of the game and one of the most memorable moments in New Orleans Saints history came when special teams connoisseur Steve Gleason, who is now battling the life-threatening ALS disease, blocked the punt of Falcons’ kicker Michael Koenen. Curtis DeLoatch recovered the ball in Atlanta’s end zone for what was the Saints’ first score at home in the Dome in nearly 21 months. It’s not a classic, but it’s a unique case of an “always remembered, never forgotten” moment.
For the New Orleans Saints, there were the good days and there were the bad days, but since Drew Brees and Sean Payton took their talents to the Big Easy, it’s been a positive ride almost the entire way. As for the rivalry with the Atlanta Falcons, those are my top five moments. Maybe another one will be created when the Black and Gold travel to take on the Dirty Birds this Sunday for the 2014 season opener.