Falcons ‘excited about the challenge’ of facing rival Saints in season opener

Falcons prep for division rival New Orleans Saints to open the season
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 4:34 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - The new look Atlanta Falcons are “excited about the challenge” that their feisty division rival New Orleans Saints will bring to kick off the 2022 season.

According to the football database, this will be the 107th matchup between the two division rivals, with the Falcons holding the 54-52 advantage. Both teams are expected to miss the playoffs this season, but the Falcons aren’t focused on anything other than beating the Saints on Sunday.

The Falcons finished the preseason with a 2-1 record, but with the preseason only being three games, the team’s performance has to be taken with a grain of salt.

“This is a very different team we have coming into the opening day this year and we’re excited,” said second-year Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. We knew what type of team we had last year.”

He hopes last season’s 32-6 blowout loss against the Philadelphia Eagles will serve as a message to his team ahead of the season opener on Sunday afternoon.

“We certainly didn’t start the way we wanted [against the Eagles]. We came out full throttle and only came away with six points and didn’t do anything in the second half.”

Smith knows the challenges that the NFL season opener always brings with all 32 NFL teams. The Falcons have not won their season opener since the 2017 season, the one after the year they lost Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots. Only the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts have longer season-opening losing streaks with five games and eight games respectively.

“We’ll always adapt to the strength of our players and who we have and we won’t make excuses. We’re focused on the New Orleans Saints. Opening days are strange for a lot of reasons. A lot of unknowns, and every team is dealing with it.”

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The Saints no longer have the hall of fame-worthy coach Sean Payton running the team or the iconic hall of fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees slinging the ball all over the field. However, they do have a few solid players sprinkled at different positions to pose a threat. In comparison, the New Orleans Saints have won the past four regular-season matchups against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are arguably the favorite to win Super Bowl 57. The only difference was when the Bucs topped the Saints in New Orleans in the final game of Brees’ illustrious career.

“We’re going to play a very veteran team coming in here,” said Smith. “The schemes are very similar. Different coach, obviously. Dennis [Allen] has been there a long time. They will be different with him as a head coach. They added a bunch of vets,” Smith continued.

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Falcons rookie receiver Drake London returned to the practice field on Wednesday in preparation for the clash against the Saints. London suffered a leg injury during the preseason. London was injured in the Falcons’ preseason opener at Detroit. He went out on the first series after catching a 24-yard pass.

“[Marcus Mariotta and rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder] are two mobile quarterbacks who can run anytime they want to, but also have a great pocket presence,” London previously told CBS46 News. “I’m loving the grind. They’re always in my ear and make sure I always get the right tips. Little things here and there. Coach Smith said they will wait until the end of the week to decide if London will play.

With or without London playing, the Falcons know they will have a tall task ahead. The season opener will kick off at 1 p.m. at Mercedes Benz Stadium.