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Saints come marching in

Atlanta plays host to New Orleans on Monday Night Football

POSTED: December 20, 2007 5:02 a.m.
ATLANTA — The New Orleans Saints already rallied once this season. They’ll have to do it again to get back to the playoffs.

Coming off a devastating loss to division rival Tampa Bay, the Saints find themselves in a most precarious position, probably needing to win their last four games to send their season into January for the second year in a row.

Of course, the defending NFC South champs know they’re capable of such a streak. The Saints opened the season 0-4, then turned things around with four straight wins.

"When you start the way we did, losing four games right out of the gate, your team can go one of two ways," coach Sean Payton said. "I’m proud of the way we bounced back."

But, in keeping with this Jekyll and Hyde of a season, New Orleans (5-7) stumbled again over the past month to put itself in a must-win situation the rest of the way, beginning with tonight’s game against the woeful Atlanta Falcons.

"We’re not out of this thing yet," running back Reggie Bush said. "It’s hard to believe and to think about it, but we’re not out of the playoffs just yet and there’s so many things that can happen. All we can do is control our part, try to win out and take it from there."

Last week, the Saints had a chance to pull within a game of first-place Tampa Bay and look more like the team that got all the way to the NFC championship game last season during an emotional return to the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Instead, the Saints literally gave the game away with an ill-fated trick play in the closing minutes. Needing a couple of first downs to wrap it up, Payton called for a reverse dubbed the "Superdome Special" near midfield.

But Bush had trouble with the handoff, then made an awkward pitch to Devery Henderson. The ball squirted away, the Bucs recovered, then drove for a touchdown with 17 seconds left that dealt the Saints a crushing 27-23 loss.

"At some point during the week, you’ve got to swallow it and get on with your preparation," said Payton, who was heavily criticized for making such a high-risk call. "You can’t dwell on it too long because the next challenge is in front of you. But it was certainly disappointing for all of us."

The Falcons (3-9) are certainly the sort of team that can help anyone get over their disappointment.

Atlanta will turn to its third starting quarterback of the post-Michael Vick era, benching Joey Harrington yet again in favor of Chris Redman, a guy who was out of the league the last three seasons and turned to selling insurance just last year, figuring his playing days were over.

Redman played well in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss at St. Louis, throwing two touchdown passes, but those came with the Rams comfortably ahead and already in a celebratory mood.

What he’ll do in his first start since 2002 is anyone’s guess, but the Falcons figure it can’t be any worse than the numbers generated by the Harrington-led offense. Atlanta ranks 26th in total yards and next-to-last in scoring.

"Chris has a quick release and he’s always been an accurate passer," coach Bobby Petrino said. "He’s able to get the ball out of his hands fast, which helped the other day on our timing. He’s really tough. He’s always been able to stand in there and take a hit."

Redman, who had to overcome shoulder and back injuries to make it back, hopes all the hard work will pay off.

"If I throw a couple of picks, I could be back selling insurance," he quipped. "I want to take advantage of my opportunity."

The Falcons don’t have much to play for this year except trying to avoid another season with double-digit losses (this would be the 20th in their 42-year history) and getting a jump on 2008.

Considering the heavy turnover that usually occurs after such a dismal season, many players know they’re either trying to keep their job in Atlanta or at least make a good impression on their next employer.

"You always want to have something good on tape," offensive guard Kynan Forney said. "This is time of the season when people expect you to tank, expect you to not be playing hard. When you go out there and play hard at the end of a season like this, it allows people to look deep into your soul, see how your parents raised you. It shows a lot about your character."

The Saints will learn a lot about their makeup over this final month of the regular season. Drew Brees vows to keep approachink our head coach or us as an offense are going to be gun shy, you’re crazy," the quarterback said. "Aggressiveness — that’s what we do, that’s what we are."

Asked if he would like another chance at running the "Superdome Special," Brees fired right back.

"Absolutely. About five times."



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