Falcons vs. Saints: Have we seen the last of Brees vs. Ryan?

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It’s hard to find a rivalry as hateful as Falcons and Saints. While this matchup isn’t regarded as high as other rivalries around the league, the bitterness between the two teams and their fanbases makes it feel as if it should. This is mostly because of both teams’ tumultuous history before the 2000s. However, the duel between Matt Ryan and Drew Brees has brought this rivalry to new heights. Ryan joined the Falcons in 2008 after being selected third overall, and Brees joined the Saints in 2006 via free agency.

The Falcons last got their win in the series in Week 10 of 2019. At 1-7, they pulled off the unthinkable on the road against the 7-1 Saints. Just like in 2019, the Falcons will once again be coming off a bye week against New Orleans.

The Falcons and Saints have played 24 times since 2008, but only 23 times have the two quarterbacks faced off, most in NFL history. Chris Redman made his lone appearance in 2009 to step in for an injured Matt Ryan. Ryan wouldn’t miss another game until 2019 against the Seahawks. It’s rarified air to have two opposing quarterbacks last as long as these two have on their respective teams.

In those 23 matchups, Ryan has accounted for only nine wins in the series, while Brees has amassed 14 wins against the Falcons. Ryan’s 6,848 passing yards are also behind Brees’ 7,085 yards. The pair are tied with 43 touchdown passes, but Ryan has the edge with fewer interceptions. He has only thrown 16 compared to Brees’ 25. However, could this duel already be over?

Saints head coach Sean Payton inadvertently revealed that 2020 will be the final season for Drew Brees. While Payton has yet to double down on his statement directly, he did so indirectly by paying $21 million to his heir apparent, Taysom Hill. The $16 million guaranteed makes him one of the highest-paid backups in the league. That’s not the kind of money you give to a gadget player who sees the field only a few times a game. They are preparing for Brees’ inevitable exit at the conclusion of the 2020 season and see Hill as the future.

However, Brees’ injury against San Francisco leaves his availability in doubt vs. the Falcons and beyond. Just before halftime, Brees went down with an apparent injury that sidelined him the rest of the game. Monday, it was discovered that Brees suffered multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung, and an “optimistic” return is 2-3 weeks. Being that the Falcons and Saints have their rematch within that three-week window, we may never see Matt Ryan and Drew Brees face-off ever again.

With the Saints sitting at 7-2 and leading the division, Sean Peyton will likely keep his quarterback on the sideline in hopes he can be fully healed the closer we get to the postseason.

This could be a big blow for a rivalry that has been elevated based on both teams’ quarterback play. In all likelihood, it seems as if the Saints will start Jameis Winston over Taysom Hill. Winston went 6 for 10 with only 63 yards, while Hill continued to be used on the ground, gaining 45 yards on eight carries.

Preparation for the Falcons this week will be crucial due to the lack of information available. Atlanta has no way of knowing what the Saints will do on offense with Hill and Winston at their disposal. Both are very mobile and tough to bring down. While Winston has an arm that’s as good as anyone, he is also a loose cannon. No matter which quarterback gets the start, they will each see a role increase, giving the Falcons a lot to handle.

Photo: Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

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