Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Saints Show Their Mettle

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Saints Show Their Mettle

Article excerpt

Byline: VITO STELLINO

Don't count out the defending champion New Orleans Saints just yet.

A week ago, after they suffered their fourth loss, there were questions about whether the Saints were going to be in the playoffs.

But they made a statement Monday night when they rallied to beat the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 to clinch a wild-card spot.

The 10-4 Saints probably won't beat out the 12-3 Falcons for the NFC South title. But the Saints' victory made a statement because if they're going to go back to the Super Bowl, they'll probably have to beat the Falcons in Atlanta again.

"It feels good," said quarterback Drew Brees, who conducted a 90-yard touchdown drive in 13 plays in the fourth quarter to pull the game out. "You just want to punch your ticket to the big show, and we've done that."

Not that Brees had a great night. He threw a shovel pass that defensive end Chauncey Davis intercepted and took 26 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead.

Brees then threw an interception to John Abraham and had to make the tackle at the Atlanta 47 to stop him from scoring.

"I said, 'I've got to get this guy down somehow,' " Brees said.

If he hadn't, the Falcons could have had two defensive touchdowns in a little over two minutes.

The Falcons then punted, and Brees took them on the game-winning drive.

But the drama wasn't over yet.

The Falcons faced a fourth-and-6 on the Saints' 43 with 2:46 remaining.

Coach Mike Smith worked on coach Jack Del Rio's staff in Jacksonville before getting the head-coaching job in Atlanta.

But he's not the gambler Del Rio is. Smith punted, and the Falcons never got the ball back.

Because quarterback Matt Ryan is noted for pulling off late rallies and was 19-1 at home, the risk-reward for the gamble might have been worth it. Smith had no second thoughts about punting.

"Definitely thought it was the right thing to do," Smith said. "On fourth-and-6, we felt like the way we had been playing defensively, and we had two timeouts, and we hopefully could wrap one around the two-minute warning."

But they couldn't stop the Saints

THE PROBLEM WITH PARITY

To understand parity in the NFL, it's necessary to note that the 6-9 Seattle Seahawks go into the final game of the season battling for the NFC West title against the 7-8 St. Louis Rams.

The Seahawks are still alive, even though they were routed 38-15 by the Tampa Bay Bucs.

If the Seahawks win, it will be the first time in a non-strike year (the playoffs were expanded in the 1987 strike year) that a team with a losing record will make the playoffs.

The NFC West winner will host a playoff game, and the defending champion Saints will likely be on the road with 11 or 12 victories. That will start a lot of chatter that the teams should be reseeded for the playoffs. …

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