It was another close game in one of the most underrated rivalries in sports. The Atlanta Falcons still had a chance to win. Yet there were "Who Dat?" chants ringing throughout the Georgia Dome late Thursday night.
This was the saddest moment yet in a Falcons season full of them. The New Orleans Saints won 17-13, with Atlanta self-destructing in every phase during the final five minutes. It continued a season-long trend of crumbling in the fourth quarter. It was a typical result in this matchup. The Saints are 12-2 against Atlanta in the Sean Payton era, even though nine of the last 12 matchups have come down to the final possession.
This wasn't the Saints' sharpest game. Drew Brees missed a few passes he normally makes, and the Saints' offense lacked in big plays. Atlanta's offense effectively shortened the game with long drives, but the Falcons couldn't finish.
The Saints are 9-2 this season because they aren't just about offense. Their defense can carry them when necessary, and they didn't give up one point in the second half Thursday. The defensive line led by Cameron Jordan (2.5 more sacks) took down Matt Ryan five times, and hit him 10 other times.
On a night when little came easy to New Orleans, the extra effort of Pierre Thomas and Jimmy Graham stood out. They broke tackles, dragged defenders and stiff-armed their way to a victory, combining for 230 yards from scrimmage.
We don't know yet if this will be New Orleans' year in the NFC South; Carolina will have a lot to say about that. But this is a Saints team that can win low-scoring games. (That's fortunate because they face a brutal slate of upcoming defenses: at Seattle, vs. Carolina, at St. Louis and at Carolina.)
The Saints could wind up anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed in the NFC based on how those four games go, and they are loving every minute of it after their lost season in 2012.
The Saints know how fleeting success can be in the NFL. Last year's No. 1 seed in the NFC is learning that lesson the hard way too.
The latest "Around The League Podcast" "Stuck a fork" in three unlucky teams.