METAIRIE, La. — When the Saints beat the Falcons on Nov. 11, they had 24 hours to revel in the misery they caused Atlanta.
Luckily for the Saints, the sting from Sunday’s painful loss to San Francisco was only allowed to linger for half that time.
Thanks to the NFL schedule-makers, New Orleans was forced to move. There’s only three days to go before the Saints play the Falcons again.
“Seven o’clock this morning we put this behind us and we’re on to our next game,” Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said Monday.
What also helps, at least preparation-wise, is that the Saints (5-6) will face the Falcons (10-1), a team they’re intimately knowledgeable about. As division rivals, New Orleans has played Atlanta twice a year nearly every year since 1967.
But while the Falcons own a 45-41 advantage over the Saints, New Orleans has won 11 of the past 13 games, including a 31-27 victory 15 days ago.
In other words, knowing the Falcons will help on the short week.
“Absolutely,” Vitt said. “It doesn’t make it any less challenging but they know us and we know them. We are going to run plays that we have probably all seen run against one another before.”
In the earlier win, the Saints came up with a crucial goal-line stop late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Yet, while New Orleans was able to shut down the Falcons’ ground game – 46 yards on 18 carries – Matt Ryan led a dangerous aerial attack that piled up 411 yards and three touchdowns, 122 yards and two scores going to tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t expect Gonzalez to be any less of a target this Thursday night.
“They get him in situations where you have to single coverage him, because you can’t just double one guy all the time with all the other skill they have out there,” Spagnuolo said. “I’m sure that approach won’t change for them. The quarterback looks for him because he has great trust in him and I would too. The guy’s a great player.”
Nevertheless, that it’s the Falcons up next and that it’s already close to game day doesn’t totally take away from the hurt.
The Saints held San Francisco to 375 total yards and, defensively, to 17 points, good enough to win usually for New Orleans.
“It’s tough because I know we played well enough to win in so many ways and yet, two plays like that can just completely change the outcome of a game, which obviously those did,” said quarterback Drew Brees, who finished with three touchdowns but two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
He added, “Yeah, it’s tough to swallow because I feel like we can beat that team, should beat that team. But listen, they’re really, really good. They’re going to be in the hunt just like we want to be in the hunt. We might see them later on. For us, it’s a short week. We’ve got to be able to turn it right around.”