The New Orleans Saints have clinched a fourth consecutive winning season for the first time in franchise history as they prepare to visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
The historic streak "probably tells me it's coming from a program that hasn't had much success or history of success, and I'm being just honest," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I'm glad that it's four in a row, (but) certainly, our aspirations are much higher than having a winning season."
New Orleans (9-2) has won eight games in a row to take a 2 1/2-game lead over Tampa Bay atop the NFC South and a one-game lead over Green Bay atop the conference.
The Saints beat the Falcons 24-9 two weeks ago in Taysom Hill's first start at quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who has rib and lung injuries and isn't eligible to come off of injured reserve until next week.
Hill passed for 233 yards and ran for two touchdowns against the Falcons. He ran for two more touchdowns but had just 78 passing yards in a 31-3 victory at Denver last Sunday.
Payton modified the game plan to focus more on the running game after learning the Broncos would be without any quarterbacks because of a series of COVID-related absences. The Saints finished with 229 rushing yards.
"We weren't going to (have a) sack/fumble, we weren't going to get (the ball) turned over in our red zone," Payton said. "In that type of game field position mattered a lot. Seven points in that type of game would be the equivalent of 21 and that's just the way I felt that game needed to be played."
The Saints lead the NFL in total defense (284.9 yards per game). Two weeks ago, they kept the Falcons out of the end zone, intercepted Matt Ryan twice and sacked him eight times.
"The biggest challenge is getting your butts kicked the first time and having to bounce back," said Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris, who has led Atlanta to a 4-2 record since replacing the fired Dan Quinn. "You have to look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself, (make sure) they know the facts and why it happened."
New Orleans took a 10-9 halftime lead, then pulled away by shutting out Atlanta in the second half.
"We played a pretty good first half when you talk about defense, but we've got to get our offense going," Morris said. "We've got to get our offense off the bus. We've got to get them up and running early. Those guys really controlled the second half and made it go the way they wanted it to go."
Last Sunday, Atlanta rebounded with a 43-6 thrashing of Las Vegas, taking the ball away from the Raiders five times.
"(The Saints) dictated terms last time out and we get to go out and try to dictate terms ourselves," Morris said. "When we do that, that's when we have results like we did (against the Raiders). When we are not, we have the unfavorable results like we had against the Saints the first time."
Both teams had two key offensive players limited by injury in practice Wednesday. Saints All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara both played through injury against the Broncos.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Todd Gurley hope to return Sunday after missing the game against Las Vegas.
--Field Level Media
|11/22/20||ATL 9||NO 24||376||166||210||248||52||196|
|New Orleans||T. Hill||78.3||233||0||0|
|New Orleans||T. Hill||10||49||4.9||2|
|New Orleans||M. Thomas||9||104||11.6||0|
|New Orleans||T. Hill||2|
|New Orleans||D. Brees||73.5||2196||18||3|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||128||585||4.6||8|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||68||646||9.5||4|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||12|