The Falcons–Saints rivalry, originally known as the Dixie Championship and now more often called the Southern Showdown, is a divisional rivalry in the NFC South of the National Football League. At 86 games played, the series is by far the oldest and most established rivalry in the division. Born one year apart, the Saints and Falcons were the first two NFL franchises in the Deep South (Washington and Dallas being arguably southern but not in the traditional Deep South). They have shared many of the same players, such as Morten Andersen (the leading scorer in both franchises' histories), Bobby Hebert (who quarterbacked for both teams in the 1990s), and Joe Horn (the Pro Bowl Saints receiver who left for the Falcons in 2007). They have also drawn coaches from the same families, and even shared a head coach: recent Falcons coach Jim L. Mora is the son of longtime Saints coach Jim E. Mora, and former Falcons and Saints coach Wade Phillips is the son of former Saints coach Bum Phillips. Although rarely noted by the national media - no doubt due to both teams' long stretches of futility - games between the Falcons and Saints have riveted their respective regions for more than 40 years. Fans of both teams consider the other their most important and hated opponent.
ESPN.com writer Len Pasquarelli has cited the rivalry as one of the best in all of sports: "Every year, bus caravans loaded with rowdy (and usually very inebriated) fans make the seven-hour trip between the two cities. Unless you've attended a Falcons-Saints debauchery-filled afternoon, you'll just have to take my word for how much fun it really can be."
The all-time series is currently led by Atlanta at 46-40 (45-40 regular season, 1-0 playoffs). The series began in 1967, the first year of play for the Saints, and press accounts from that game, including the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune and Los Angeles Times, refer to it as the "Dixie Championship." In recent years, the game has sometimes been referred to as the "Southern Showdown." This has especially been the case leading up to the first of the two 2011 games, by WWL radio in New Orleans.
In the midst of New Orleans' troubled 2005 season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina they suffered a bitter loss at San Antonio to the Falcons on October 16. The Saints raced to a 10-3 lead in the second quarter before a fumble was returned by DeAngelo Hall of the Falcons for a 66-yard touchdown and a tie game. On the final play of the second quarter the Falcons blocked a field goal try and Demorrio Williams ran back a 59-yard touchdown. An exchange of six touchdowns ensued and Devery Henderson caught a 15-yard game-tying score, leaving the game 31-31 in the final minute of regulation. A penalty on the Saints helped the Falcons set up Todd Peterson's 36-yard field goal on the final play, ending a 34-31 Falcons win. Saints coach Jim Haslett was so angry over the late penalty that he repeatedly ripped the "chicken (blank)" calls by the referees.
The Falcons were the opponent in the Saints' first game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, held on September 25, 2006. The Saints won the nationally televised match 23-3; the game was the highest-rated program in the history of ESPN and the second-highest-rated cable program of all time.
The Falcons hosted the Saints on November 26, 2006 at the Georgia Dome. Michael Vick rushed for 166 yards but threw for only 84 yards while Drew Brees of the Saints threw for 349 yards (a week after a 510 yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals), including a 48-yard heave to Terrance Copper caught in heavy traffic in the Falcons endzone for a Saints touchdown. The Saints routed the Falcons 31-13, and after the game Vick flashed an obscene gesture to booing Falcons fans.
In 2008 the Falcons flew to the Louisiana Superdome for a Week 14 NFC South rematch with the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta trailed fairly early in the first quarter as Saints QB Drew Brees completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to RB Reggie Bush. In the second quarter, the Falcons continued to trail as kicker Garrett Hartley got a 26-yard field goal. Atlanta would respond RB Michael Turner getting a 5-yard TD run, yet Hartley gave New Orleans a 46-yard field goal. The Falcons struck back with rookie QB Matt Ryan completing a 2-yard TD pass to WR Brian Finneran, but the Saints closed out the half with Hartley's 25-yard field goal. Atlanta would get the third quarter's only points as kicker Jason Elam nailed a 23-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, New Orleans tried to pull away as Brees completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to RB Pierre Thomas, yet their 2-point conversion attempt failed. The Falcons would then take the lead as Ryan got a 12-yard touchdown run, followed by a 2-point pass to wide receiver Michael Jenkins. However, the Saints got the last laugh as Thomas got a 5-yard TD run for a 29-25 New Orleans win.
The Saints were on a quest for an undefeated season in 2009 when on November 2 they hosted the Falcons on Monday Night Football. The Falcons got on the board first in the first quarter on a 13-yard Michael Turner rushing touchdown, answered later in the quarter by Pierre Thomas, who scored from 22 yards out. After forcing a Falcons punt the Saints were hemmed in at their own four-yard line - Drew Brees was sacked and fumbled to Kroy Biermann, who ran in a Falcons touchdown and a 14-7 Atlanta lead after one quarter. New Orleans then erupted with 21 second-quarter points on touchdowns by Marques Colston and Reggie Bush and a Jabari Greer interception returned 48 yards for the touchdown. Atlanta's struggles were exacerbated when kicker Jason Elam missed two second-quarter field goal tries, but the Falcons stayed close as Matt Ryan found Roddy White deep and connected on a 68-yard score. Elam connected on a 25-yard field goal early in the fourth and the Falcons forced a Thomas fumble, but Ryan was then picked off by Tracy Porter. Brees led the Saints down field and connected with Thomas from one yard out and a 35-24 lead, but after turning the ball over on downs and then forcing yet another Saints fumble the Falcons got another Elam field goal in the final two minutes. Coy Wire then got the ensuing Falcons onside kick at the Saints 49, but Ryan's throw was picked off by Darren Sharper at the Saints 5, ending a 35-27 Saints win.
In the 2010 season, both teams met for the fifth time in six seasons on Monday Night Football. Playoff implications were on the line for both teams, specifically the NFC South title and potentially the top overall seed in the NFC Playoffs. Going into Week 16, Atlanta, with a 12-2 record, had already secured a playoff berth, needing a win in either of their last two games or for New Orleans to lose at least one game to win the division, while New Orleans, with a 10-4 record, needed to win out and for Atlanta to lose against Carolina in Week 17 to repeat as division champions. New Orleans would score first with Garrett Hartley kicking a FG from 52 yards late in the first quarter. RB Pierre Thomas would add to the Saints' lead with a 2-yard TD run; however, Atlanta would respond with a Matt Ryan 7-yard TD pass to Roddy White to cut the lead to three. After a scoreless third quarter, the Falcons took the lead with Chauncey Davis returning an interception 26 yards for a touchdown. New Orleans reclaimed the lead late in the 4th with a Drew Brees 6-yard TD pass to Jimmy Graham. Atlanta attempted a comeback; however, New Orleans held on for a 17-14 win, clinching a playoff berth in the process. In Week 17, Atlanta won the division and top seed in the NFC with a victory over Carolina while New Orleans settled for a wild-card spot with a loss to Tampa Bay. In the playoffs, New Orleans lost to the Seattle Seahawks 41-36 in the Wild-Card Round, while Atlanta was routed by the eventual Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round 48-21.
In the 2011 season, both teams met again for a Monday Night Football matchup. Like the previous season, playoff implications were at stake for both teams, however, in a near-inverse of the 2010 meeting, New Orleans, entered Week 16 with an 11-3 record with a playoff berth already clinched, were in better position to win the NFC South division title, and needed a win in one of their final two games or an Atlanta loss in one of their final two games to clinch the division title, while Atlanta, entering Week 16 with a 9-5 record, needed to win out as well as for New Orleans to lose against Carolina in Week 17 to repeat as NFC South champions. A major historical aspect of this game was Saint Drew Brees' pursuit of Dan Marino's single season record for passing yards, 5084, set in 1984. Entering the game with 4780 yards, Brees needed only 305 in his final two games to obtain the record. Atlanta received the opening kickoff and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead but the Saints immediately responded with an 84-yard touchdown drive sparked by Brees' 38-yard completion to Lance Moore on the drive's first play. Brees would end the first quarter with 66 yards. By halftime, Brees was within 75 yards of the record with 230 yards in the first half, thanks in large part to the 164 yards he notched in the second quarter, which lifted the Saints to a 21-10 lead. Despite only having 45 yards in the third quarter, Brees managed to help the Saints extend their lead to 31-13 and he entered the fourth quarter 30 yards shy of Marino's record. The fourth quarter was somewhat atypical of how the Saints had played during the first three quarters in that the they would punt for the first time in the game and would be held to a three-and-out for the third straight possession dating back to the third quarter when they had to settle for a field goal after failing to get a first down following Darren Sproles' 92-yard kickoff return which set them up with excellent field position at the Atlanta 14-yard line. Continuing the breaking of trends was the Saints' defense which came into the game having forced the fewest turnovers of any defense in the league. That improved when linebacker Scott Shanle stripped the football from Falcons' wide receiver Julio Jones at the Falcons' 35-yard line and Saints' free safety Malcolm Jenkins grabbed the ball bouncing off the turf in stride and raced 30 yards down the sideline for a touchdown extending the lead to 38-16. With zero completions or yards through the Saints' first two fourth quarter possessions, it appeared uncertain if Brees would be able to get the record in front of a national audience in prime time but after the Saints' defense succeeded in stopping the Falcons on fourth down for the second straight possession and having taken over at the Falcons' 32-yard line with Brees needing just 30 for the record, the stage was set for history. On the ensuing drive, Brees completed a 12-yard pass to Marques Colston and an 11-yarder to Devery Henderson coming to within 7 yards of the record. After an incomplete pass on first and goal from the Falcons' 9-yard line, Brees connected with running back Darren Sproles at the 1-yard line by the left hash mark and he carried it into the endzone completing the quest for the record with Brees at 5087 yards through 15 games and capping off the scoring for the game with the Saints winning 45-16 and clinching the NFC South division title, their third since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006 and fifth in franchise history. Brees ended the night completing 23 of his 39 passing attempts for 307 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. This was also his 12th game of the season with at least 300 yards passing, an NFL record.
The Saints and Falcons have met six times on Monday Night Football, most recently in 2011. The series has been played three times in Atlanta and three times in New Orleans, and overall the Saints lead 5–1. The Falcons' cumulative record in Monday night games is 9–24 and their .273 winning percentage is the worst out of all 32 NFL teams.
The 2006 matchup, the first game played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, was the second highest rated cable television broadcast of all time, a mark that has since been surpassed. The 2010 matchup averaged 19.1 million viewers on ESPN, making it the most watched cable broadcast of 2010.