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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Brees, Saints use championship heart to deny Falcons

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ATLANTA -- The scene was one of celebration, New Orleans Saints players dancing and taking pictures on the Atlanta Falcons logo late Monday night at the Georgia Dome, in uniform no less.

As they ran back into the tunnel, pictures taken, dances completed, smiles wide, I asked one of the players what that was all about.

"I pissed on the Falcons logo," Saints defensive tackle Remi Ayodele said.

You did what?

The Saints had just earned a hard-fought 17-14 win over the Falcons to earn a playoff spot, but isn't that a bit much for a team that won a Super Bowl last season?

File this one away. If these teams meet again, you can bet the Falcons won't forget the arrogance of the act.

I can tell you this: They know already and they aren't happy about it.

"It's not rubbing it in," Ayodele said. "It's a big game for us. We're in the playoffs."

The players say the picture taking was something they started after beating Dallas on Thanksgiving. It is something the linebackers started, but the defensive line joined in this time.

"I don't think it's turning the knife," Saints defensive end Will Smith said. "We just wanted to do something to remember the victory."

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Smith was holding back a sly grin as he talked. I asked Ayodele if he would be offended if the Falcons did that on his team's logo.

"Absolutely," Ayodele said.

That defense had reason to celebrate, even if it was a bit extreme. The Saints held the Falcons to seven offensive points, 215 yards of total offense and 3-of-12 on third down.

That's not a good sign for the other NFC teams come playoff time. The Saints defense has had trouble stopping the run the past month or so, but the Falcons could manage just 75 yards rushing, and 26 of that came on Matt Ryan scrambles. The Saints also caused and recovered a Michael Turner fumble at the New Orleans 1 in the third quarter with the Falcons threatening to take the lead.

"We only scored seven points," Turner said. "That's something we cannot do."

The Falcons defense kept the team in the game. It harassed Saints quarterback Drew Brees all night long, sacking him four times and hitting him a bunch more. If not for Brees' ability to escape pressure, that number might have been more like eight or nine.

It was on one of those hits that Brees made the blunder of the game. With Jonathan Babineaux draped on him, he tried to flick a pass to Reggie Bush in the flat. But Falcons defensive end Chauncey Davis picked it off and returned it 26 yards for a 14-10 Falcons lead with 14:14 left in the game.

Brees was battered, beaten, had turned the ball over, once for that touchdown and a later pick that was almost returned for a second. But you just can't count him out. Not with his competitive drive, not with a game to win and a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

CBSSports.com Grades
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
A-
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deserves the game ball after the Saints' performance on defense. New Orleans held Atlanta to just 215 total yards and wouldn't allow RB Michael Turner to get going. After throwing two picks, Drew Brees bounced back to lead the Saints on what would be its game-winning drive.
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons
B-
Atlanta's defense came to play against New Orleans' high-powered attack but got no help from the offense. The Falcons saw some early second half success with the no-huddle but ventured away from it, playing into the Saints' defense's hands. It didn't help QB Matt Ryan played arguably his worst game of the season.
By Jason Butt
RapidReports Correspondent

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Instead of pouting or sulking, Brees did what great quarterbacks do: He got over it. He promptly took the Saints on a 90-yard drive for what turned out to be the game-winning points.

The Saints used 13 plays to eat up 7:11 of the clock on the drive, with Brees hitting rookie tight end Jimmy Graham for a 6-yard touchdown.

That's why the Saints are defending Super Bowl champions. And that's why they will be tough to get out this time as well.

This is quarterback time in the NFL. As Brees proved last season in leading the Saints to the Super Bowl victory, he knows how to make plays in crunch time.

"One of his [Brees] greatest characteristics is his resiliency," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

He hates to lose. The stories about his competitive drive are legendary. Take last summer. At a celebrity softball game hosted by Saints fullback Heath Evans, Brees won the home-run contest and hit two in the game. But he popped out to end the game with a runner on and a chance to win it.

"You could see how much he wanted it," Saints center Jonathan Goodwin said. "That's Drew's competitive ways."

Brees also threw an interception to John Abraham and his effort tackle prevented a return for a score. It was that kind of night, but he still found a way.

"You're going to have things happen," Brees said. "It's not always going to be rosy. You have to find a way to respond. At the quarterback position, everybody is looking to you for confidence. They want poise and composure. You stay poised, they stay poised."

The defense cut off the Falcons' comeback attempt and the Saints were in the playoffs. If Atlanta beats Carolina next week, the Falcons will win the NFC South and get the No. 1 seed.

But if the Falcons were to lose and the Saints were to beat the Bucs, the Saints would be the division winner and the NFC's top seed. If not, they will be the No. 5 seed and have to travel the wild-card route.

"This is the first step in trying to repeat and defend our championship," Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said.

It's no wonder they celebrated. But the question is whether that dancing and whatever else they did to the logo went over the line.

If these two meet again, you can bet that little celebration will become an even bigger deal.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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