Home Featured Teams New Orleans Saints Rested, Recharged and Ready to Make Run at Top Seed in NFC

Rested, Recharged and Ready to Make Run at Top Seed in NFC

drew brees
Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert and New Orleans Saints

The Saints return from their bye week to host the division rival Atlanta Falcons (1-7) on Sunday and enter the contest trailing only the undefeated San Francisco 49ers (8-0) in the NFC standings.

The Saints control their own destiny for the top seed in the NFC. Since the Saints host the 49ers in Week 13, running the table in the second half of the season would assure the NFC Playoffs goes through New Orleans.

The Saints have a two-game lead over the Carolina Panthers (5-3) in the NFC South.

The Saints are currently on a six-game winning streak. The first five of those wins came under backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater while Drew Brees was sidelined with a thumb injury.

Brees returned ahead of schedule to guide the Saints to a 31-9 victory vs. the visiting Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) in Week 8. Brees passed for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the win.

Now that his return is out of the way, Brees believes he can move past any lingering concerns.

“Yeah, it was good after the game. There was no negative effects,” Brees said. “I got banged around a little bit, which was good as far as I think just uh, mentally, psychologically, just knowing that it can withstand what it needs to withstand.”

Running back Latavius Murray has admirably stepped up to fill the void in the absence of Alvin Kamara (ankle), who’s been banged up with ankle and knee injuries. Murray accounted for 157 total yards and two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing) against the Cardinals.

The receiving touchdown was the first of Murray’s career.

“I told Drew that. I was hyped after that one. It’s year seven and my first receiving touchdown. It was due. I was just happy to get it done,” Murray said. “It has been a long time coming. I told him that. It was a special day especially coming from a guy like Drew.”

Throughout his stretch as the starter, Murray has proven a propensity for getting stronger as the game goes on. It’s something that Murray takes great pride in.

“I definitely do. You just get into a rhythm,” Murray said. “I get the reps and I get the carries. I just try to take advantage of it.”

The Saints received encouraging news as Kamara returned to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday, providing hope he’ll be able to return vs. the Falcons.

Saints coach Sean Payton describes the specific areas he’s identified that he’d like to see improved in the second half of the season.

“It’s not just let’s run the ball better, but how can we find more explosive plays in the running game and in the passing game?” Payton said. “Defensively, how can we take the ball away more efficiently? We’ve had five interceptions that were called back via penalty, or one was a penalty on the offense for delay of game. Those are the specifics relative to the details. In the kicking game, how are we with our location? How’s our operation time? They’re more narrow or much more specific.”

The Saints aren’t overlooking a struggling Falcons squad. The rivalry brings out the best in both teams.

“They are really worth two when it comes down to it and they’re always battles, regardless of record, (and) standing. We know what these games mean,” Brees said. “We know how physical these games are. We know how tough they are and so we need to bring our best football, especially this week.”

There’s still eight games left prior to the end of the regular season. However, Payton learned during the first half that his squad is filled with the requisite resiliency and cohesion to contend for the franchise’s second Super Bowl title.

“Obviously, we have a lot of football left. You go through momentum cycles and sometimes being on different teams you’re trying to create momentum,” Payton said. “I’d say this is a pretty close and resilient group. I think that they care a lot about each other. I think that they understand how to win and also how difficult it is.”