ATLANTA — At least the Saints know their next opponent.
Tonight, when New Orleans pays a visit to NFC South-leading Atlanta, the Saints will do so on short rest.
And after a physically-demanding, grinding game against San Francisco, that’s not an easy task.
So that the NFL scheduled an opponent the Saints (5-6) are familiar with is certainly a blessing.
But with their backs against the wall, the task isn’t exactly an easy one. The Saints seemingly have no more mulligans heading into Atlanta (10-1).
“You have to approach it like that,” Saints fullback Jed Collins said. “I think we have to approach it like the playoffs have begun this week because the NFC this year is stacked against us. 9-7 has a lot less likelihood than 10-6 does.”
Not that the Saints aren’t familiar with the position they’re in. They started the season 0-4 and fought back to .500. All offseason, they’ve taken shots nationally in connection to the bounty scandal the NFL says the team ran.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins believes that, even in the success of the three seasons prior to this one, the Saints showed resolve. He recalled winning three playoff games in 2009 after losing three straight to end the season along with fighting through stretches of 2010 and 2011 in which the team inexplicably lost games to Tampa Bay, Cleveland and St. Louis.
“When we’re in the worst situation, we just fight our way out,” Jenkins said. “Guys don’t go in the tank. You can look around the league and see a bunch of teams going through some kind of adversity and they fold, guys start pointing fingers, guys start going off and doing their own thing.”
That’s not happening with New Orleans, Jenkins said.
“This team in particular, at least since I’ve been here, whenever something goes wrong we come out of it stronger and tighter than we were when we went into it,” he said.
With five games to play, the Saints are a game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC. They’re fighting back with league’s worst defense statistically (32nd total, 32nd against the pass, 30th against the run) and an offense with question marks at right tackle, where an injured Zach Strief will play or fourth-stringer Will Robinson will get his first career start.
When these two teams tangled 17 days ago, the Saints held Atlanta to just 46 yards rushing. But Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan strafed the secondary for 411 yards and three touchdowns. It took a fourth down stop at the two-yard line to seal the win.
Ultimately, those inside the locker room aren’t worried about the position the Saints are in, feeling that there’s too much character to let things slip away.
“We fought and we gained ground,” Collins said of the season thus far. “I don’t think we have any chance to breathe or anything like that because there are some teams that are zeroing in on what they want to accomplish this year and if you leave it up to them, they’re going to take it.
“It’s up to us to try to control our destiny as much as possible.”