The Atlanta Falcons have a lot riding on Sunday’s regular-season finale against the New Orleans Saints.
A first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
A guaranteed home game in the second round.
Coach Dan Quinn doesn’t want to hear about any of it.
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Looking to keep his team firmly grounded even after Atlanta clinched its first division title since 2012, Quinn stressed he was only concerned about finishing strong against an NFC South rival that already has been eliminated from playoff contention.
All that other stuff?
It can be addressed next week.
“If we put too much attention on what could be down the road, we'll miss the coolest part of going through it with our team,” Quinn said. “What we try to do is stay in the present moment.”
Atlanta (10-5) wrapped up the division title last week with a victory over Carolina, ending a three-year playoff drought. When Seattle was upset by Arizona, the Falcons moved into position to claim the NFC’s No. 2 seed behind Dallas.
“No one has complete tunnel vision,” veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “Everyone knows there’s some type of implications if we lose or win. But that’s not our focus.”
While the Saints (7-8) are assured of missing the playoffs for the third year in a row, quarterback Drew Brees views the finale as more than a chance to mess up Atlanta’s postseason plans.
New Orleans is riding a two-game winning streak and can avoid a losing season with its third straight victory.
“I feel like we’ve begun to figure a lot of things out and begun to find what we’re really good at on both sides of the ball,” Brees said. “You want to continue to build upon that each week and obviously, when that preparation and that work results in victories, that builds confidence.”
Atlanta will play its final regular-season game at the downtown stadium it has called home for 25 seasons.
Of course, the Falcons will host at least one more game in the playoffs, so this won’t be the actual finale for the Georgia Dome. Next season, the team is moving next door to a $1.4 billion retractable-roof facility, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The current stadium, which will be imploded, was the site of two Super Bowls and served as a venue for the 1996 Olympics.
Brees is not only leading the NFL in yards passing heading into the regular season finale, but he also is on the cusp of his fifth 5,000-yard season.
His first came in 2008 (5,069), when he fell just 16 yards shot of breaking Dan Marino’s then-longstanding record of 5,084. In 2011, Brees smashed that mark, finishing with 5,476, a record that stood until Peyton Manning surpassed it by a yard in 2013.
Brees enters the finale with 4,858 yards, so he merely needs 142 – less than half of his 324-yard average – to reach the milestone. He also has 35 TD passes, one behind Aaron Rodgers for the NFL lead.
Atlanta looked to be headed for the playoffs a year ago, winning its first five games on the way to a 6-1 start. But the Falcons went 2-7 the rest of the way – including a six-game losing streak – to finish at 8-8.
Quinn doesn’t like to dwell in the past, but he conceded learning some valuable lessons that paid off this season.
“For sure, there were some scars,” the coach said. “I’m not sure you can be really relentless until you get really close to something and you don’t get it.”
The Falcons are the 20th team in NFL history to reach 500 points in a season. They broke the franchise record with two weeks to spare and go into the finale with a league-leading 502, averaging 33.5 points per game.
Last week, Atlanta also eclipsed the team mark for total yards in a season with 6,188, surpassing the 6,051 in 2014. The Falcons are averaging 412.5 yards and have gone over 500 in three contests.
Mark Ingram is seeking his first 1,000-yard season as a rusher in the same stadium where he probably clinched his Heisman Trophy with Alabama at the 2009 SEC championship game.
Ingram is already having his best overall season since being selected by New Orleans in the first round of the 2011 draft. He has 940 yards and five TDs runs, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, to go with 290 yards and four TDs receiving. His 1,230 yards from scrimmage represent a career best for a single season and his nine total TDs scored have tied his career high, set in 2014, when all nine came on the ground.