The Falcons are now just playing for pride while the Saints are playing to stay alive …

It’s hard to expect the Falcons to “rise up” after Thursday’s 17-13 loss against the Saints. Not even Samuel L. Jackson, one of the team’s most prolific fans, could prevent New Orleans from delivering the Falcons their first losing season in the Mike Smith era.

"I felt like the effort in the ballgame was good and gave us a chance to win the football game," Smith said. "I like how we started the game ... Unfortunately, we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted.”

It’s hard to believe that this is the same team that shared the last season’s best regular season record. Conversely, what a difference a coach makes. The return of coach Sean Payton has rejuvenated a team that was 7-9 last season. The 9-2 Saints now find themselves the captains of their own destinies and 1.5 games ahead of another division rival Carolina Panthers (7-3). This is where the Saints can either choose to sink or swim. After a much anticipated matchup with Seattle, the Saints have to face Carolina twice before closing out the season. The outcome of these games could decide who will win the NFC South or who will have to settle for a wild card berth – or worse.

Passing of the guard ...

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was swept this season by his heir apparent. When New Orleans released its final injury report before the game, tight end Jimmy Graham (elbow, foot) was listed as “probable,” while Gonzalez (toe) was listed as “questionable.”  And Thursday night’s game proved a probable Graham is better than a questionable Gonzalez any day. There is no doubt that the future Hall of Famer Gonzalez remains to be a threat, but Graham’s five-reception, 100-yard performance was the sixth time he crossed the century mark in yardage this season. Guess who was the only other tight end to achieve such a milestone? Gonzalez, in 2000 and 2004, when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. It also kind of makes one wonder “what if,” had he not left K.C.

 

Cameron Jordan …

“Killa Cam” is what the fans call him or perhaps you’ve heard “Cam … Ohh, Cam,” sung in the tune of R&B-New-Jack-Swing group Guy’s “Teddy’s Jam.” Jordan is a beast. Jordan garnered half of the five sacks assaulted on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. His career-best 9.5 sacks are already 1.5 more than his last year sack count and considering this is his third year in the league, that’s a big jump from just one in the Cal alum’s rookie year.

"I think we’ve seen a bigger jump because number one, the players around him are having success, so you can excel in a season like a year ago, yet there’s no attention that’s going to be drawn to that,” Payton said in a Friday morning conference call. “I think he’s in great shape and I think he has an exceptional way of getting on the edge of an offensive player.”

Let’s not forget the Saints have endured three defensive coordinators in the same amount of years that Cam Jordan has been in the pros. It’s safe to say he’s adapted quite well.

 

Acquiring Desmond Trufant was one of the best decisions Atlanta could have ever made ...

They need this guy now more than ever; like plants need water and puppies need love. Trufant is that guy a team like the Falcons need. The University of Washington alum didn’t have the rosiest job of guarding Saints go-to guy Marcus Colston, but the Falcons’secondary missed the first-yar Falcon after he suffered a thigh injury in a play with 3:06 left in the first quarter – a play in which he almost intercepted Colston in the end zone. The pick might have happened had there not been a little collision with teammate William Moore in the end zone. Trufant did return in the third quarter and finished the game with five tackles (four solo), along with four pass deflections. In case no one is watching, Trufant is tied for fifth in the league with 13 pass deflections and only Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Cooper has more deflections among the league’s rookies.

 

Saints o-line still needs tweaking ...

Thanks to Rob Ryan, New Orleans no longer has a defense that is the butt of offenses’ jokes. However, the offensive line has been lightweight laughable in its struggles to protect its main asset, Drew Brews and rushers, alike. And that 35-17 win over Buffalo (Brees was sacked four times) or 49-17 mollywopping given to Dallas in Week 10 doesn’t mean anything if the team struggles in the following weeks. Imagine Brees passing more than his current 3,647 yards if some of those passes had been completed or if he had not been sacked 23 times already (he was sacked 26 times last season). Imagine a different game if the Falcons had not let John Abraham go. Yeah, Seattle is important, but all of the Saints’ roads to the playoffs  must go through Carolina, specifically second-year, first-round pick Luke Kuechly and nine-year veteran Thomas Davis. The two rank among the league’s top 15 linebackers have a combined 170 tackles and four sacks.

 

Here’s a little lagniappe (a little something extra):

The Falcons were dead  wrong from letting John Abraham go. The now-Arizona Cardinal is murking offenses going into Week 12 with 21 combined tackles and seven sacks. Brees continues to be a record-breaker. No. 9 only needs 434 passing yards to reach the 50,000-yard mark and 1,909 to knock John Elway out of fourth place on the all-time passing list. And Falcons fans can sit tight because Smith isn’t going anywhere after Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank gave him a Jerry Jones-esq endorsement after Atlanta dropped to 2-8 on Nov. 17 against Tampa Bay.