FLOWERY BRANCH — Some Atlanta players seem uncertain about who gave the Falcons' their lone loss of the season.
Did the Saints beat Atlanta, or did the Falcons beat themselves in their 31-27 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 11?
Receiver Roddy White was dismissive of the Saints after the game when he said, "It's not like they came out here and won a game. I think we kind of gave it to them."
Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons were stopped at the Saints' 1-yard line late in the game. The Falcons (10-1) believe they have unfinished business with the Saints, who will visit Atlanta on Thursday night.
The Falcons are dominating the NFC South. They lead second-place Tampa Bay by four games and the Saints (5-6) by five games. Atlanta could clinch the division this weekend if it beats the Saints and Tampa Bay loses to Denver.
New Orleans has won 11 of the last 13 in the series. Running back Michael Turner said the lopsided recent history in the rivalry is a sore subject for Falcons players.
"We get tired of hearing about it," Turner said Tuesday. "Each season is different. We've both been winning for a while now. When it comes down to this game, we know it's going to be a tough ballgame. We have to go out there and just handle business."
White wasn't the only Atlanta player who believed the Falcons should have won in New Orleans.
"Yeah, I think the ball was in our court and we had every opportunity to win that game at the end," safety Thomas DeCoud said Tuesday. "It was just that the ball didn't bounce in our favor."
Tight end Tony Gonzalez said the Falcons "let it slip away at the end."
"Give them credit though," said Gonzalez of the Saints. "But we had it."
White's strong postgame comments struck a nerve with Saints players.
That may be one reason White wasn't talking on Tuesday.
"Y'all are getting no love from me today, I'm sorry," a smiling White told reporters as he walked quickly through the locker room.
Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton also wasn't feeling the love from White, his former teammate.
"I mean, it's just words," Lofton said in a telephone interview with Falcons beat writers on Tuesday. "I think that part of your job as a professional is to take a loss and take a win and you give the other team the credit. You don't just say 'We gave them the win.' Each team works hard each and every week and we worked hard and we came out on top that week."
Saints defensive end Will Smith said White wasn't looking ahead to this week's game when he made his comment.
"Roddy has a problem with just saying things without thinking before he says things. So, I mean, he should have thought about that, knowing that we have to play them again," Smith said.
Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said White's words will add motivation this week.
"It definitely kind of set up a nice little fire or however you want to say it," Jenkins said. "That's how it is — Atlanta versus the Saints. There's always going to be somebody talking trash. Most times it's Roddy White. And we enjoy it. I think that makes the game fun. It brings emotion to the game. He's Roddy White. You've got to know that's going to come from him."
Lofton played four seasons with Atlanta before signing with the Saints in the offseason. Lofton said the rivalry feels different now that he's with the team that is dominating the series.
"Yeah, I would say so," Lofton said. "Being here in this program, I feel like we see it as a divisional game, not a rivalry game."
NOTES: The Falcons were missing three defensive starters in practice: CB Asante Samuel (right shoulder), CB Dunta Robinson (illness) and DT Peria Jerry (quadriceps). Samuel and Robinson were on the injury report on Monday. Robinson was an addition. ... Turner, who already holds the Falcons record with 56 career rushing touchdowns, is tied with Terance Mathis for the team record with 57 total touchdowns. "It's going to be a great feeling," Turner said when asked about being one score shy of sole possession of the record.