The level of intensity for what's on the line for Monday night's rematch with the Saints mirrors only one game in this long and bitter rivalry. With a victory, the Falcons clinch the NFC South division title and wrap up home-field advantage as the No. 1 seed in the conference. New Orleans can claim a playoff spot with a win and keep their hopes for a division title alive.
On Dec. 28, 1991, Atlanta traveled to New Orleans for an NFC Wild Card playoff game. The atmosphere was electric, the stadium packed and a national television audience was watching. Does that sound like something that might be happening 19 years later (almost to the exact day) on Dec. 27, 2010?
The Falcons fought back from an early 10-0 deficit to only trail 13-10 at halftime. The second half turned into a nail-biting thriller as a certain Falcons connection heated up the Superdome turf.
First-time Pro Bowl selection Falcons QB Chris Miller found fleet-footed wide out Michael Haynes on a 20-yard scoring toss to take the lead on the only scoring play of the third quarter.
Saints RB Dalton Hilliard plunged over for a 1-yard touchdown to cap a 19 play, 80 yard march to put New Orleans back on top 20-17 early in the fourth stanza. Falcons K Norm Johnson connected on a 36-yard field goal halfway through the quarter to tie the score with 7:36 remaining.
The stage was now set for some game ending dramatics. With just less than three minutes remaining, Haynes would turn in one of the most famous plays in team history.
On second-and-9 from his own 39-yard line, Miller threw a quick 7-yard hitch to Haynes in the right flat near the sideline. The speedster from little known Northern Arizona University lived up to his well-earned nickname of "Flash."
He hauled in the pass, eluded one cornerback, and then shifted into high gear, outracing the rest of the Saints secondary 61-yards to the endzone for the game-winning score. It was an all-out sprint to the finish line and Olympic champion Usain Bolt couldn't have done it any better.
It was a case of pure speed and competitiveness on display. Haynes knew this was his chance to go win the game. And like Michael Jordan at the end of a tight Bulls contest back in the day, he was not going to be denied. That's the definition of clutch.
Birds CB Tim McKyer picked off the final QB Bobby Hebert pass with 1:10 left and the Falcons claimed their first road playoff win in team history. It also ended the Saints' chance at their first postseason victory ever.
Monday night's Falcons-Saints annual affair has a similar feel as that 1991 game. Let's see if it lives up to the billing.