Photo: Kevin Hinton. New Orleans Saints' Jon Stinchcomb gets his right knee checked out by medical staff during the game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA -- With his team unbeaten and his name heavily mentioned in Pro Bowl talk, it looked like it would be a perfect homecoming for Jon Stinchcomb.
Then disaster almost struck.
There was the New Orleans right tackle down on the Georgia Dome turf, definitely not a sight that the former Parkview and Georgia standout's family and friends wanted to see.
"I didn't know how bad it was at first," Stinchcomb said.
But this is a season in which almost nothing has gone wrong for the Saints.
After having his right knee checked out by the New Orleans medical staff, Stinchcomb was able to return later in the first half Sunday as the Saints held on to beat Atlanta 26-23 while improving to 13-0.
"Luckily it was the knee I wear my brace on," Stinchcomb said. "Without that brace, it would have been a serious injury. It saved me."
And the Saints as well.
New Orleans can't afford to lose the 30-year-old Stinchcomb, who excels in run blocking as well as protecting quarterback Drew Brees on the NFL's top-rated offense.
Despite a few close calls recently, the Saints are three wins away from a record-tying 16-0 regular season and fans are already dreaming of a possible Super Bowl match-up between New Orleans and Indianapolis, which is also unbeaten.
"It's been so special," Stinchcomb said. "The season has been flying by and now we are close to something great. We really get along in this locker room and that carries over to the field. It's been a lot of fun."
The Saints play at home against Dallas on Saturday night, then finish the regular season by hosting Tampa Bay and playing at Carolina.
"All season, we've been good at not looking past the next game," Stinchcomb said.
New Orleans clinched the NFC South title a couple weeks ago and the victory over the Falcons assured the Saints of a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
"That's huge," Stinchcomb said. "The last time we were in the playoffs, I know who much healing was done during that extra week. After a 16-game season, any extra time you can give your body to heal up definitely helps. An extra week is a big advantage."
Stinchcomb, who signed a five-year contract extension after last season, has started 61 consecutive games. The streak was put in jeopardy last season, though, when Stinchcomb suffered a calf injury during a game in Atlanta.
"This is the second time I've had to limp off the field here," Stinchcomb said.
Last year, Stinchcomb was expected to miss at least a game. But he was able to return the next week against Kansas City.
"I'm an offensive lineman, so it's not as if I have to run fast," Stinchcomb said, breaking into smile.
But he does have to stay on his feet, so it was scary for his family and friends, as well as the Saints, when he went down against the Falcons.
Stinchcomb said he got 20 tickets, and knows he had at least another 20 "loyal Stinchcomb supporters" at the game.
"It's good to come home," he said.
But the Saints have plenty of support everywhere right now as they keep winning.
"It seems like each week there are more New Orleans fans in opposing team stadiums and it was no exception here," Stinchcomb said. "We're definitely feeling the love right now no matter where we play."
The Saints, though, are also getting the best effort of each team they face as they go for an unbeaten regular season.
Washington forced New Orleans into overtime a week ago and the Falcons gave the Saints a scare on Sunday despite being without Matt Ryan and Michael Turner.
"Atlanta is a good team and they gave us their best shot," Stinchcomb said. "We're going to face that every game the rest of the regular season and then in playoffs, so it's good to get used to it."
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only NFL team to go unbeaten in the Super Bowl era. Can the Saints do it, too?
"We're a good team," Stinchcomb said. "But nobody is thinking that far ahead. We know better than that."