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Saints, Falcons trying to close season with strong finish

11 months 1 week 2 days ago December 31, 2015 Dec 31, 2015 Thursday, December 31 2015 December 31, 2015 3:50 PM in Sports
Source: Associated Press
By: Charles Odum

ATLANTA - There are some obvious reasons why Sunday's game between New Orleans and Atlanta teams eliminated from playoff contention still has meaning.

The Saints (6-9) want to save coach Sean Payton from his first 10-loss season. The Falcons (8-7) want to give first-year coach Dan Quinn a winning record.

There's value in such statistical milestones as Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and Saints wide receiver Willie Snead each closing in on 1,000 yards.

Motivation also is provided by the geographical and divisional rivalry, which always adds a distinct heat. Saints fans love making the long drive to Atlanta and sending their "Who Dat?" chants echoing through the Georgia Dome. Falcons fans return the favor in New Orleans.

But those are not the reasons Saints quarterback Drew Brees, only a couple weeks away from his 37th birthday, keeps playing with his mobility limited by a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

Brees said he can't abandon his teammates, including others who are "banged-up, nicked-up."

"You could very easily say we're not playing for a playoff position here," Brees said. "Why risk it? Why do this? Well because first of all it's our jobs. It's what we're paid to do. We take pride in what we do. But also we've got guys we don't want to let down. We want to be there for them. We want to do this together."

Similarly, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wouldn't stay down after taking some brutal hits in Atlanta's shocking 20-13 win over Carolina last week to give the Panthers their first loss.

"It just shows what kind of competitor he is," said Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. "He just got up and kept pushing and led his team to a win."

Finally, some players are trying to prove they deserve to return in 2016.

"To say that it doesn't have any meaning is uninformed in terms of what we do professionally," said Saints right tackle Zach Strief. "Guys are playing for jobs and guys are playing for certainly respect, and guys are playing for pride, and on top of that it's a rivalry game."

Here are some things to know about the final game of the season for the Saints and Falcons:

FINISH STRONG: The Falcons have won two straight after six successive losses devastated their playoff hopes. The Saints are trying to close their disappointing season by winning three of their last four games.

FREEMAN'S BREAKOUT: Freeman had 73 yards rushing with a touchdown against Carolina's strong defense last week. He needs only 20 yards rushing to reach 1,000. The second-year player has been a breakout star with strong production as a runner and receiver in his first season as a starter.

Freeman is fifth in the NFL with 1,540 total yards, including his 71 catches for 560 yards. He is tied for third in the league with 13 touchdowns.

Quinn has praised Freeman since offseason workouts, and said the milestone "would be significant, only because of the attitude and mindset he has gone after it for us. It's honestly one of the things that I admire of him most, his toughness, but it's really the competitor that's in him."

TWO FOR 1,000: Snead, undrafted out of Ball State in 2014 who made his NFL regular-season debut with New Orleans this year, is 51 yards from 1,000. He would give the Saints two young receivers with 1,000 yards, joining 2014 first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks, who leads the club with 1,116.

UGLY PASS DEFENSE: The Saints' defense has allowed 43 TDs passing, an NFL record. They set the mark by giving up four in last week's win over Jacksonville. They passed the 1963 Broncos, who allowed 40 touchdown passes in 14 games.

TOO OLD TO CHIRP: White, 34, avoided social media battles with Saints fans this week, including on Twitter, where he playfully engaged fans in past years.

"I was getting too old," White said. "The older you get, the more mature you get. You feel me? You've got to calm down sometimes."

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