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What to watch for on MNF: Saints-Falcons

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It's a special night in The Big Easy.

This evening's Monday Night Football showdown between New Orleans and Atlanta marks the 10-year anniversary of the Saints returning to the Superdome after the unforgiving wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.

The tone of that iconic Saints-Falcons tilt was established right away as special-teams ace and New Orleans hero Steve Gleason blocked a wayward Atlanta punt that was scooped up for a touchdown by teammate Curtis Deloatch to jumpstart a raucous 23-3 win over Michael Vick and the Falcons.

"I just heard this loud thump, like this loud BOOM! And everything was pretty much in slow motion," Deloatch told The Times-Picayune of Gleason's block. "The ball was right there. ... I'm running and I pick it up. As I scoop it up, if you kind of look at the play again, I'm kind of looking over at the referee to see if it's a touchdown or not. When he (signaled) touchdown, I jumped up."

Gleason -- whose journey and battles with ALS are shared in a fascinating new documentary -- had come to love New Orleans long before that fateful moment at the Superdome.

"Because I had been in New Orleans for the previous six seasons, at least to some degree, I understood the culture and mentality of the city," Gleason said. "I was dating and would later marry in to a New Orleans family. I also endured the chaos of the previous 13 months. As a result, the significance of the block, even in the moments immediately after the play, the severity was not lost on me."

Said coach Sean Payton: "There's a lot of symbolism in that game. That idea of rebirth. That idea of (getting) back to normalcy if you will."

Ten years later, here's what we'll be watching for on Monday night:

1. Payton would like to see this year's Saints take their own voyage back to the normalcy of winning on a regular basis. While that surprising 2006 squad went on to the NFC title game -- the first of many glorious seasons for the franchise -- this year's Saints find themselves in an 0-2 hole after losing to the Raiders and Giants by a combined four points.

The problem hasn't been Drew Brees, voyaging toward another monster campaign despite becoming the first quarterback since at least 1960 with five passing touchdowns, zero picks and a winless record after two games. The 37-year-old signal-caller has found new life through a pair of exciting young wideouts -- Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks -- whose 437 combined yards were more than any other receiving duo heading into Week 3. With Snead out with a toe injury, expect a heavier dose of Brandon Coleman and rookie pass-catcher Michael Thomas against Atlanta. The Saints would also like to get tight end Coby Fleener more involved after the free-agent addition has struggled to get on the same page with Brees.

2. The Saints held the Giants to just three field goals in Week 2, but allowed 35 points to the Raiders in the opener and currently sit on pace to give up more yardage than last year's historically awful unit. They'll be faced tonight with stopping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has begun to erase memories of his uninspiring 2015 outing with five touchdowns and just one pick over the first two weeks. His completion percentage (72.6) is up from last year (66.3), a credit to the weapons around him. Julio Jones fried the Saints last season for lines of 6/93 and 9/149, but doesn't have to do it alone this autumn with the productive Mohamed Sanu by his side. The former Bengals wideout has equaled Julio's 13 targets over two games and offers Ryan a 6-foot-2, 210-pound target to focus on when Jones is double-teamed. Julio, of course, regularly beats double coverage and could have a monster night against a Saints secondary already missing cornerbacks Delvin Breaux (fibula) and P.J. Williams (concussion). Tight end Jacob Tamme also has seen a ton of attention from Ryan.

3. The Falcons' defense has yet to evolve into the Seahawks-esque whirlwind fans were promised when Dan Quinn arrived from Seattle. To be fair, the coach didn't inherit much, but it feels like Atlanta hasn't been able to rush the passer in a thousand eons. Vic Beasley's lone takedown remains the only sack on the year for a defense allowing more points per game than all but three other teams.

"It's hurtful," Beasley said of Atlanta's issues on defense, per ESPN. "But we know what we're capable of. We just have to keep going. We have to keep the right mindset and stay positive."

The Falcons keep throwing past-their-prime solutions at their pass-rushing dilemma (read: Dwight Freeney), but there's a glimmer of hope tonight with Saints starting left tackle Terron Armstead out for the game with a knee injury. If the Falcons can't disrupt Brees, it only heaps more pressure on uber-talented cornerback Desmond Trufant to isolate and shut down the New Orleans air attack. Not easy in the lathered-up Superdome, where Brees and friends have scored 8.9 more points per game, chalked up 50-plus more yards and been nearly 8 percentage points better on third down at home than on the road.

4. With the C.J. Spiller project bottoming out in New Orleans, the Saints are leaning almost exclusively on hard-charging Mark Ingram to carry the ground game. Ingram's mundane 88 yards at 4.2 yards per pop over two weeks are the product of a pass-heavy offense, but he's enjoyed some of his biggest games in prime-time. The Falcons have a true committee at play, with Devonta Freeman (28) and Tevin Coleman (21) both seeing their share of carries. Freeman caught a heavy-duty 73 passes for 578 yards last season, but Coleman has led the way on passing downs in 2016, averaging 3.5 catches and 60 yards per tilt through the air.

5. And tonight's drink recommendation from NFL.com spaceman/journo/homeowner Conor Orr:

"While the temptation for tonight will be to run to your nearest distillery and purchase enough tonnage of corn whiskey to make you mentally erase the presidential debates populating every non-ESPN channel on your menu, how about we make a smarter beverage choice? Abita is Louisiana's oldest brewery and its flagship special -- Purple Haze -- is available in most stores across the U.S. In light of tonight's special anniversary, let's also celebrate the way special folks at Abita toss a boatload of raspberries into their creation just after the filtration process for a sweet, dessert-like flavor. The brew is beloved by many in the surrounding area and accentuates what makes New Orleans traditional, but vastly different and wonderful. Don't bother pairing it with dinner, this is an after dinner bottle that will go down smooth and won't cause a riotous next-day fruit beer headache."

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