Most of the NFL’s great rivalries are obvious to a majority of fans. However, the one between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons often flies under the radar. Part of the reason is that both franchises spent their first few decades in utter futility. But they’ve played in the same division since 1970 and have had some memorable battles over the years. Here are some of the great moments between the Saints and Falcons that prove it’s one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
The First Time
We should have known that this rivalry would be something special after the first game ever played between the Saints and Falcons in 1967. A late touchdown catch by Kent Kramer lifted the Saints to a 27-24 win, giving them just one of three wins in their inaugural season.
Of course, the Falcons won just one game that year. But the game was close and competitive, like so many Falcons-Saints games to come.
The 1978 season produced two games with last-minute drama that helped fuel the rivalry. First, there was a Hail Mary pass by the Falcons on a play called “Big Ben Right.” With seconds left on the clock, Atlanta’s Wallace Francis tipped the Hail Mary pass into the hands of Alfred Jackson, who caught the ball to give the Falcons a 20-17 win.
Two weeks later, the Falcons also trailed 17-13 in the final minute. But quarterback Steve Bartkowski led a 72-yard drive in 53 seconds to lift Atlanta to another 20-17 win. Those two wins were enough to put the 9-7 Falcons in the playoffs while leaving the 7-9 Saints out.
1991 Wild Card Game
To date, the only playoff meeting in this rivalry was a classic. The game went back and forth, but a 61-yard touchdown by Michael Haynes on a slant ended up being the difference. That touchdown gave Atlanta a 27-20 lead on the road with 2:41 left.
The Saints put together a drive that got as far as the Atlanta 35-yard line. However, Bobby Hebert was picked off by Tim McKyer to seal the win for the Falcons.
Falcons End Drew Brees’ Touchdown Streak
It’s only fitting that Drew Brees’ incredible streak of 54 straight games with a touchdown pass would come to an end against the Falcons. Not only did Brees fail to throw a touchdown pass in a 23-13 loss, but the Falcons picked him off five times.
One of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history saw his streak end with one of the worst games of his career. That season also saw the Falcons reach the NFC Championship Game while the Saints missed the playoffs.
Hurricane Katrina Return
One of the greatest triumphs for the Saints in franchise history came against the Falcons in 2006 in their first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. It was a momentous occasion and one of the most-watched games in NFL history.
The game was made even more special early in the first quarter when New Orleans safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone by Curtis Deloatch. That set the tone for a dominant 23-3 win by the Saints that became emblematic of the city’s resiliency after the hurricane. In fact, there is now a statue commemorating Gleason’s punt block that sits outside the Superdome.