Roddy White said he heard Keenan Lewis say that New Orleans hoped to put the Falcons in their graves on Sunday, but the veteran Atlanta receiver preferred to wait until after the game’s opening whistle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to offer his response to the Saints cornerback’s funeral barb.
“May we rest in peace,” White said during a conference call Wednesday with New Orleans reporters when Lewis’ remark was brought up. “May we rest in peace.
“When the ball kicks off and we start … to mix it around and mingle out there, then we’ll see who the better team at the end of the game is. That’s all that’s going to matter.”
In speaking to a reporter after the Saints’ 31-15 win at the Chicago Bears on Monday night, Lewis said the Saints couldn’t permit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throw for as many yards as he did when Atlanta beat New Orleans 37-34 in overtime on Sept. 7 at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan passed for 448 yards and three touchdowns in what was a career day.
“Hopefully we come in this week and get to the details and try to figure out what Atlanta’s going to try to beat us with,” Lewis said in the visitor’s locker room at Soldier Field. “We’re definitely going to give them their funeral.”
Lewis talked again Wednesday and said the rivalry between the Falcons and Saints is “no secret,” and he mentioned how, when they were featured on the HBO NFL training camp documentary series “Hard Knocks” in the summer, members of Atlanta’s team singled out New Orleans.
“They didn’t pinpoint no other team — they pinpointed us,” Lewis said. “It was a war — they showed us the first time what it was going to be.”
Nonetheless, in an aside with a reporter Wednesday, Lewis revealed that he almost signed with Atlanta before he joined the Saints as a free agent in 2013. It would’ve been difficult to do because he’s a native of New Orleans, Lewis said, but they made a competitive offer and he respected their secondary coach.
White didn’t go after Lewis or the Saints on Wednesday, which could be a surprise to some. After all, it was White in 2010 who published a message on Twitter that it was by the grace of God the Saints were able to win Super Bowl XLIV so that New Orleans wouldn’t fall apart.
Many who were offended interpreted White’s tweet to mean the Saints were given their NFL title to console New Orleans for the devastation the city suffered during Hurricane Katrina some five years earlier. The Saints won in Atlanta 17-14 days after White sent that tweet.
On Wednesday, White avoided saying anything that was anywhere near the universe that the aforementioned tweet was in.
“Anything that comes out of their locker room or comes out of our locker room — there’s no kind of motivation that’s going to make us step up and say, ‘Oh, they said this or we said that,’” said White, who is 6-13 versus the Saints all-time and has caught 76 passes for 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns against New Orleans. “We know what it is. It’s Saints-Falcons.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith said he wasn’t aware of Lewis’ funeral comment. However, Smith said, it’s not like he nor his players need any extra motivation in their preparations for the Saints.
Everyone is well aware that, more often than not, the games between New Orleans and Atlanta aren’t decided until the final possession. That’s the case even if the Saints are 13-4 against the Falcons since coach Sean Payton arrived took charge of New Orleans’ franchise in 2006.
“It’s two teams that love to compete against each other,” Smith said. “It’s a great feel for the fans of New Orleans and fans of Atlanta when those two teams play.”
In his chat with New Orleans reporters, White acknowledged the Saints secondary he’d be operating against was most likely going to be different than the one he clashed against a few months ago.
The Saints’ starting safeties in the September game against the Falcons were Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, and the cornerback opposite Lewis was Patrick Robinson. But Byrd sustained a season-ending knee injury in October, and Vaccaro was recently moved from his strong safety spot to a role as a nickel defensive back.
In Chicago, the Saints started Terrence Frederick opposite Lewis, and the starting safeties were Pierre Warren and Jamarca Sanford.
Warren had two interceptions in the win over the Bears.
“Those guys have made some plays,” White said.
However, White suggested he and fellow Falcons receiver Julio Jones could be more of a handful that the Bears’ receivers were.
Despite missing the Falcons’ loss on Sunday to Pittsburgh (9-5) with a hurt hip, Jones remains second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,428). Jones’ six receiving touchdowns are second on Atlanta only to the seven by White, who is No. 2 on the Falcons in receiving yards (762).
“I don’t think they’ve played a group like ours yet,” said White, who is dealing with a knee issue and — like Jones — didn’t practice Wednesday. “As far as depth and guys at wide receiver that we could put out there to make plays, it’ll be different in that aspect of it.”
Both Smith and White embraced the fact that the only way this game could carry more meaning for both the Saints (6-8) and the Falcons (5-9) was if it was in the playoffs.
The Saints can eliminate the Falcons and clinch a division title as well as a berth in the playoffs if New Orleans wins and Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland (7-7).
At the other end of the spectrum, Atlanta could eliminate the Saints with a win in New Orleans and a Carolina victory over Cleveland.
“There’s a lot to be playing for,” Smith said.
White added, “It’s going to be loud and crazy in there. I can’t wait to get down there.”
Gary Estwick contributed to this report.