Early Bird Report 12/20: Falcons comment on Bucs' field; Saints place A.J. Klein on IR

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After taking a well-earned day off after Monday night's victory against the Buccaneers, the Falcons are back to work in preparation for yet another important divisional showdown against the rival Saints. A win secures a playoff spot for Atlanta, and keeps its hopes of repeating as NFC South champs alive.

Today's Early Bird Report includes some Falcons players taking issue with the quality of the Bucs' field on Monday as well as news involving a pair of notable NFC South linebackers.

FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY

ESPN: Falcons weren't happy with field at Raymond James Stadium

Throughout Monday night's game, several players seemingly slipped on the field at Raymond James Stadium at one point or another. According to ESPN's Vaughn McClure, several Falcons players weren't pleased with the turf. The most notable instance of a player slipping occurred on O.J. Howard's touchdown in the first quarter, when Keanu Neal stumbled while covering the Bucs' tight end in man coverage, leaving him wide open for the score.

"It was bad," Neal told McClure of the field. "I'm not the type to make excuses, but it was bad. But you have to adjust to whatever atmosphere, whatever environment you're in. I switched out cleats. I just switched out to some different ones to get a little better traction."

*Associated Press: *Falcons keep winning, but still struggling to put teams away

The Falcons earned a win on Monday night against the Bucs and that's all that matters, full stop. Exactly one week after the Patriots inexplicably lost on the road to the Dolphins, the Falcons looked in danger of doing the same thing against the Bucs, but they didn't. In a piece for the *Associated Press, *George Henry explained that the Falcons continue to rack up wins late in the season, but they aren't putting teams away during games.

Henry asked Falcons coach Dan Quinn about the multiple close games this season during a conference call, and Quinn explained why there such games can be a positive, saying: "Here's what I like about that. There is a hardening that takes place, a confidence from coming through in those environments to know that this is our time to stand up and make opportunities count."

Here are some more articles on the Falcons:

NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints

*The Times-Picayune: *Could 20-17 once again come back to haunt Saints vs. Falcons?

In their first meeting this season, the Falcons secured a 20-17 win against the Saints thanks to Deion Jones' interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. The victory kept Atlanta alive in the NFC South race, and it can take another step towards repeating as division champs with a second win against New Orleans on Sunday. Christopher Dabe of *The Times-Picayune *pulled up some interesting information from this rivalry's past, and it may have a few Saints fans worried.

"Now, with the Saints set to play the Falcons again Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there's fear among some fans that the Saints could be about set to repeat history," Dabe writes.

"Go back nearly four decades to 1978, and you'll find a pair of losses to the Falcons by the same 20-17 score spaced two weeks apart that ultimately kept the Saints from making what would have been their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history."

*The New Orleans Advocate: *Saints put linebacker A.J. Klein on injured reserve

Saints linebacker A.J. Klein left their first matchup with the Falcons in Week 14 due to injury, and he has been placed on injured reserve, ending his 2017 season, according to Nick Underhill of *The New Orleans Advocate. *The linebacker underwent surgery for a sports hernia last week, according to Underhill, and Manti Te'o is expected to be his primary replacement moving forward.

Here is more news on the Saints:

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH

ESPN: Panthers LB Thomas Davis wins appeal, suspension cut to one game

The NFL suspended Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis for two games after his blindside hit on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams over the weekend, but that suspension has now been cut to one game, according to ESPN. Davis appealed his two-game suspension, and his appeal was granted meaning the Pro Bowl linebacker will be eligible to return for an important Week 17 showdown with the Falcons, which is obviously big news.

*Tampa Bay Times: *Howard, Jackson, Sweezy in boots as 10 Bucs take injuries

Tampa Bay entered its Monday night game against Atlanta already banged up, and many more players suffered injuries before the final whistle. As the *Tampa Bay Times' *Greg Auman writes, 10 Bucs players left the game with injuries on Monday night. Three players – O.J. Howard, DeSean Jackson and J.R. Sweezy – were seen on crutches with a boot on their ankles in the locker room after the game, while linebacker Adarius Glanton appeared to break his leg and was carted off the field.

Here is more news from around the division:

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