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franklin county times

Saints look to overpower Vick, Falcons in NFC South rematch

By By Richard Dark / EMG sports writer
Nov. 17, 2002
NEW ORLEANS The dateline for the origin of news surrounding the Atlanta Falcons is Flowery Branch, Ga. It doesn't sound like an appropriate name for a venue whose star tenant is a talented individual quickly becoming somewhat of a personal hell for the New Orleans Saints.
But even though he has the propensity to inflict loads of devilish punishment on them, the Saints aren't in awe of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. And they don't mind telling you so.
Following Atlanta's 37-35 comeback victory over New Orleans last month, many in the locker room were already trumpeting that theme. Joe Horn chief among them. Three weeks later, he is still singing that same song.
And this week in Flowery Branch, Vick shot back. "They didn't beat us, so they can't talk any trash. If it were on a grass field, we'd have beat them into the dirt. They talked all the trash, and they couldn't beat us."
The Saints will have to try to atone for that setback today when they hook up with the hated Falcons today somewhere near that same Flowery Branch in the 72,000 seat Georgia Dome. Kickoff is at noon on FOX.
And unlike last year's meeting, the stands are sure to be filled with more home fans, rather than the horde of Saints fans, who were in the stands last year following LSU's SEC Championship win in the building the night before. After years of not selling out home games, the Falcons have sold out their last nine, no doubt a byproduct of an athlete being dubbed as the Michael Jordan of football.
When asked this week about the pros and cons of facing Vick in a short three-week span, the coach responded simply, "There's no pros, I can tell you that much."
New Orleans will need all of its 32.2 points per game in order to hang in this one. Only 44 points are needed to eclipse the 10,000-point mark all time. It may take all 44 to put away the Falcons and Vick, who has already proven he can score at any point and time against this defense that has shown plenty of weaknesses and given up piles of points. Rick Venturi's unit currently sits next to last in the conference standings. Vick's backfield mate Warrick Dunn could be an x-factor if he racks up the nearly 150 yards rushing he got in the Superdome last month.
One half of the Saints dynamic duo, quarterback Aaron Brooks only needs 50 more yards to surpass Billy Kilmer for fourth place on the Saints all-time passing list. The other half, running back Deuce McAllister, is less than 100 yards away from the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He is the NFC leader in points scored by non-kickers with 66.
And key to that production is the play of the offensive line, which will be minus the services LeCharles Bentley, who is questionable nursing an ankle sprain.
If he can't go, Haslett will turn to reserve Scott Sanderson for help. Spencer Folau will move over to Bentley's spot and Victor Riley will start at right tackle. Defensive tackle Grady Jackson will likely play after missing the past two weeks with a sprained knee. It will be the first time Folau has seen action at guard since 1998, when he played in Baltimore. "They're two totally different positions," Folau said. "You're in the trenches. But playing next to (center) Jerry Fontenot makes it easy." notables for the Falcons include Fred Weary and Juran Bolden. Both are expected to play.
Keyuo Craver and Fred McAfee are healthy again and have provided a boost to the overall athleticism of the unit.
The receiving corps isn't bad either. Rookie phenom Donte' Stallworth kept the Cardiac Kids alive with two clutch grabs last week in the heart-stopping come-from-behind win over Carolina last week. The Saints have scored to win on their final drive five times this season. TE David Sloan, in his first season in New Orleans, will play in his 100th career game on Sunday at Atlanta. Horn moved into fifth all-time in receiving yardage with 3,376 yards. He is only the sixth player in club history to reach 3,000 yards and he reached the milestone faster than any player in team history. This season, Horn is currently tops in the NFC in receiving yardage.
Yes, Horn has expressed plenty of confidence in his team and the ability to return the favor to the Falcons and salvage the division split.
But Haslett, who is more of a cautious optimist type of guy, said his team needs to keep their wits about them and not get caught up in all the hype, Vick-related or otherwise. But a win over the Falcons, would signify a non-losing season and continue to elevate the Saints status as a serious playoff contender.
If they do that, things may not be happy in Flowery Branch, but the Big Easy will continue, for another week at least, to be on top of the world.

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