What we learned on a night when Monday Night Football came here to see the 3-10 Falcons for the third time (including one preseason game) this season, exactly three more than they've visited Lambeau Field to see the 11-2 Packers.
1. The Saints can ride the roller coaster into the playoffs. First, there was the 0-4 start to the season. The Saints rebounded with four straight wins. That was followed, however, with losses in three of their next four. After Monday's 34-14 win over the Falcons, New Orleans is still right in the thick of the playoff race. The Saints are now one of four NFC teams at 6-7, one game behind the 7-6 Vikings for the final wild-card spot. If the Saints run the table, a possibility with a relatively soft final three games (vs. 6-7 Arizona, vs. 5-8 Philadelphia, at 5-8 Chicago), they'd finish with an 8-4 record in the NFC, the first tiebreaker after head-to-head. That would be good enough to edge out every non-division winner in the NFC, including the Vikings, should Minnesota lose one of its final three games.
2. Bobby Petrino has no more quarterbacks to test drive.Joey Harrington had the first opportunity, but he couldn't nail down the job. Then came Byron Leftwich's turn, but true to his reputation in Jacksonville, he couldn't stay on the field. Finally, Chris Redman had his shot Monday; and while he nearly eclipsed 300 yards in the air, he does not look like the long-term answer, either. So, on the day Atlanta's former franchise QB was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison, the Falcons quarterback situation remains as unsettled as it was in August. The stars continue to align for Petrino to reunite with his quarterback from Louisville, Brian Brohm, who is currently projected as a top-five pick in April's draft.
3. The Saints offense is better without Reggie Bush. Prior to Monday night, the Saints ranked 30th in the league in average rushing yards per carry with 3.5, with the primary ball carrier, Reggie Bush, averaging 3.7. With Bush out of the lineup with a PCL injury, the Saints averaged 4.8 a carry against the Falcons, led by Aaron Stecker's 20-carry, 100-yard performance. The New Orleans offense is obviously built around Drew Brees and the passing game, with the team averaging 40 pass attempts per game (most in the league) and only 24 rushing attempts (28th). Bush is reportedly done for the season, meaning the Saints will continue to utilize the explosive Stecker and his backup, Pierre Thomas. If that duo continues to give opposing defenses something to worry about, it will open things up even more for Brees -- as was evident on the Saints' two touchdown drives of 99 and 94 yards in the first half.
4. David Patten is more than a veteran presence for the Saints. The 11-year veteran of the league, at age 33, was signed in the offseason by New Orleans to bring leadership to a group of young wideouts. He proved to be capable of being much more than a role model Monday by having his best game ever, nabbing nine catches for 122 yards (both career-highs) and a touchdown. With Marques Colston showing no signs of having a sophomore slump (currently 4th in the NFC with 79 catches), Patten is giving Brees a true No. 2 wideout he can trust, something that Joe Horn, Devery Henderson and Terrence Copper were unable to provide last season.
5. The Pro Bowl will be free of defensive backs from the Falcons. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Lawyer Milloy boast six trips to Hawaii between them, but neither deserves the honor this season, especially in light of Brees turning the entire Falcons secondary into a giant turnstile with his 328-yard, three-touchdown night. The only Falcon who can make a Pro Bowl case is Roddy White, whose 995 receiving yards ranks fourth among NFC wideouts and is made even more impressive when you consider the merry-go-round of QBs he's had throwing to him this season. Maybe that's why the Falcons fans emptied the Georgia Dome with eight minutes left in the third quarter -- to hurry home and log on to NFL.com to cast their vote for White. Yup, that had to be it.
Dominic Bonvissuto is an Atlanta-based producer for SI.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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