FLOWERY BRANCH — A visit from the Atlanta Falcons stirs emotions with the New Orleans Saints even when both teams struggle.
Just ask Aaron Stecker, the newest Falcons player who spent the last five seasons with the Saints.
Stecker, the running back who signed with the Falcons on Tuesday, had his first practice with the team Wednesday. Coach Mike Smith says Stecker may make an immediate contribution on special teams when Atlanta plays at New Orleans on Monday night.
The first-place Saints are 6-0 and the second-place Falcons are 4-2, prompting Stecker to predict "It should be crazy" in the Superdome.
Stecker could join Jason Snelling as backup running backs behind Michael Turner. Jerious Norwood’s status is uncertain coming off a hip injury.
The 33-year-old Stecker played four seasons with Tampa Bay before joining the Saints in 2004. He was not re-signed after ending the 2008 season on injured reserve.
Stecker’s best season in New Orleans was in 2007, when he had 448 yards rushing with five touchdowns and had 36 receptions. He played only six games before a torn hamstring ended his ‘08 season.
"I thought I had a chance to go back there in the offseason," said Stecker of the Saints. "They decided to go in a different direction. I’ve been working out for different teams here and there and waiting for an opportunity to get back in."
Stecker worked out for the Falcons last week and said he had a tryout scheduled with Green Bay before he signed with Atlanta.
"We just felt like we wanted to add another running back who also had the skill set we were looking for in terms of special teams," Smith said, adding he believes Stecker can help the team "real quick."
Stecker says annual highlights of his five years in New Orleans were the two games against the Falcons. Each team’s fans travel well for the game.
"It’s definitely a rivalry," Stecker said. "Every time we play Atlanta it’s always an extra emphasis on the little things. At the beginning of the week we always talk about ‘It’s the Atlanta Falcons.’
"It’s kind of like how Green Bay and Chicago play. It’s something that if you only have one win or two wins in the year, when I was with the Saints you wanted it to be against Atlanta."
Throw in the national spotlight which accompanies a Monday night game, and Stecker says New Orleans will be rocking.
"The fans there, they love their team, especially when they’re playing real well," he said. "They’re 6-0, so I know it’s going to be real loud in there. It’s going to be hard to hear. I know it’s going to be a hostile environment. I know because I played there."
The Saints protected their perfect record by rallying from a 24-3 deficit to beat the Miami Dolphins 46-34 last week.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said the Saints showed "a lot of resiliency."
"That’s a very difficult situation to be in and it shows what kind of football team they are," Smith said. "I think their record indicates what kind of team they are. They’re one of the top teams in the NFL."
Stecker could be an important midseason addition for the Falcons, who were short-handed in Sunday’s 37-21 loss at Dallas.
Fullback Ovie Mughelli has missed two straight games with a calf injury. Norwood missed last week’s game with his hip injury and was a spectator for Wednesday’s light workout.
Snelling had seven carries for 68 yards against the Cowboys and "could warrant more touches" against the Saints, Smith said.
Mughelli may be more likely than Norwood to return against the Saints. Norwood said last week he might be out two weeks.
Mughelli said Wednesday he is "feeling real good" and will know more about his status for this week after Thursday’s practice.