09/03/2013 04:06 PM
The New Orleans Saints said mostly all the right things Monday about trying to treat this week's matchup against the rival Atlanta Falcons like any other game. About not getting too caught up in the emotions surrounding it. At the same time, there is no use in denying that these annual grudge matches get a certain "rise" out of them. "I'm definitely geeked up," Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette said.
Galette says he doesn't think the Atlanta Falcons have much respect for the Saints, which adds intensity to rivalry. Galette is usually the most animated player in the Saints' locker room on any subject. So it was no surprise that he was the most animated player when it came to discussing the Falcons rivalry, talking about how the Saints want to "dominate the division" and throwing in some jabs about how he doesn't think the Falcons respect the Saints much and how the rivalry has been "pretty lopsided" in recent years.
Meanwhile, Saints punter Thomas Morstead embraced the rivalry in a fun way after the Saints' final preseason game last week, proudly displaying a picture of himself on Twitter in a custom T-shirt of a gold fist squeezing a red and black falcon.
And linebacker Curtis Lofton has never made any secret of the personal passion that comes into play when these two teams meet, since he's now been on both sides of the rivalry.
"For me, I try to treat every single game the same. I don't put any more emphasis on any single game," said Lofton, who spent his first four years with the Falcons before joining the Saints last year. "But it is a rivalry. I mean, we don't like them, they don't like us. And I definitely don't like them. "So I'm looking forward to playing them, and I can't wait 'til Sunday."
The challenge, of course, is for the Saints to channel that passion in the proper way. But players insisted that won't be a problem. After all, they do this twice a year with the Falcons. And as Coach Sean Payton put it best Monday, "We play in a lot of games with a lot of hoopla around it, whether it's Sunday nights, Monday nights or postseason games. It's still about protecting the football," Payton said. "It's still about blocking and tackling. It's about all the things that we have control over. But those other things, we will try to eliminate as best as we can."
Although the Saints-Falcons rivalry used to exist more in the minds of the fan bases than the players, that has certainly changed in recent years, for a number of reasons. The main one is that these two teams are both in the midst of their most extended runs of success in franchise history. So they've been jockeying for position atop the NFC South for the better part of the past five years (though the Saints have gotten the best of the head-to-head matchups, winning 11 of the past 14).
Then, of course, there is the bad blood that has continued to escalate in recent years with various forms of trash talking. From Atlanta receiver Roddy White's disparaging comments about New Orleans in 2010; to some Falcons taking offense after Saints players posed for pictures after a victory inside the Georgia Dome in 2010; to some accusations the Saints ran up the score in a late-season victory in 2011; to Falcons players taunting Lofton during pregame stretches last year; to Saints linebacker Scott Shanle referring to the Falcons as "like our little brothers" last year.
"We know they don't have that much respect for us," said Galette, referencing past comments made between players through social media. "But we don't pay attention to that. We just want to buckle up on Sundays. ... Less talking, more playing."
However, Galette fanned the flames a little more himself soon after when he described the recent history between the teams as being "pretty one-sided." "I have no idea why that is. Maybe they're scared to come in the Dome. But we beat them at home, at their house too," Galette said. "I don't really know what it is. I just feel like we want to dominate the division. Our main focus after we dominate the division is to do everything else, wing the NFC. But our main focus is to dominate the division. Atlanta is one of the better teams in the division."
Other players like Lofton and safety Roman Harper, however, disagreed with Galette's notion that the Falcons don't respect the Saints. "I can speak to when I was there my four years, we definitely held the Saints in very high regard," Lofton said. "And I still have a couple friends there and they do the same."
"I wouldn't say we're disrespected by them. I think we are very respected," Harper said. "Our record versus these guys has always been we're been on the winning side, and it's always a tough-fought battle. And it's definitely a rivalry-type feel with this team."
The Saints were going to be plenty amped for the start of the regular season this year, regardless of the opponent. But Harper said they might as well embrace the fact that it will also come inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against their biggest rival.
"We've got to look at it as a positive, in the fact that we've got a chance to go out against one of the harder teams, one of the best teams in the league and see where we're at early," Harper said. "And if we do win this game - which we plan on doing -- we'll be two games up in the division. And that will give us a little jump start to where we need to be. A little confidence booster going forward."