The later it gets in an NFL season, the more the cliches fly.
“It is the most important game, this week.”
“This is just week (fill in the blank).”
But, none of that applies on Christmas Eve at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints, in the midst of what could be a special season, cannot afford to be swept by the Atlanta Falcons.
For 60 minutes in early December, the black-and-gold wheels came off in a 20-17 defeat to the Falcons.
Star runner Alvin Kamara exited after a big hit by former Jesuit and LSU star Deion Jones. Kamara entered concussion protocol and left for good.
Drew Brees threw an ill-advised interception to Jones late in the game, in the Atlanta end zone. A chance to kick the game-tying field goal on the next play went up in smoke.
And, head coach Sean Payton went on the field to bark at an official, drawing a 15-yard penalty that allowed Atlanta to run out the clock.
For a little lagniappe, at the end of the game, the folks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta played the Saints unofficial anthem, “Halftime,” by the Ying Yang Twins.
Were they really getting crunk?
In a series with the Falcons that has more than its share of heartbreak for New Orleans, that Thursday night in December brought some extra anxiety.
It may have been worse than Atlanta 62, New Orleans 7 in the opener at Tulane Stadium in 1973. That was a scorching hot day, so much so the concessionaire was out of refreshments by halftime.
It may have been worse than “Big Ben” five years later when the Falcons executed a “Hail Mary” pass for a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
Forty years later, the “Hail Mary” is now a fixture in games on all levels of football. And, it started for real in this series.
So, back to Dec. 7. The Falcons had four penalties in the game; the Saints had 11.
The Saints were playing in Atlanta on a Thursday night, about 100 hours after defeating Carolina in a physical game at the Superdome.
Kickoff for Panthers/Saints was “flexed” back to 3:25 p.m. for national TV. Several Saints were injured in the Atlanta game. Head coach Sean Payton was asked by reporters if the injuries could be traced to a very short week of preparation. “What do you think?” asked Payton.
He was asking a question that he felt was already answered.
So, it is time to circle the wagons. And, on Christmas Eve, put good will toward thy fellow man aside for about three hours.
The Saints owe the Falcons one. Let’s see if they can deliver.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.