Saints foiled in overtime
Missed FG opens door for Falcons
NEW ORLEANS — It should have been a routine chip shot for Saints playoff hero Garrett Hartley, a 29-yard field goal in overtime to keep New Orleans unbeaten.
Somehow, the same kicker who set a Super Bowl record with three field goals longer than 40 yards hooked it wide left from the right hash mark. Minutes later, the defending champions’ charmed run ended — and Falcons players stormed the Superdome field in celebration — when Matt Bryant drilled a 46-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the extra period to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 27-24 victory yesterday.
“I missed basically an extra point,’’ Hartley said. “It was clearly my mistake. It’s the highs and lows of being a kicker.’’
Atlanta would have won in regulation if not for Hartley’s tying 32-yard field goal with four seconds left.
The Falcons won the coin toss and received to start overtime, but the Saints held, setting the stage for reigning Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees to lead New Orleans to another dramatic win.
Brees drove the Saints to the Atlanta 11. Resigned to defeat as he watched from the sideline, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez took off his receivers’ gloves. Then Hartley hooked an ugly kick to the left for his third miss this season.
“I was absolutely stunned,’’ Gonzalez said. “I thought for sure the game was over.’’
Even longtime public address announcer Jerry Romig let his typical “It’s good!’’ refrain slip out just as officials began waving their arms sideways and cheers faded to groans in the Louisiana Superdome.
Hartley’s hook was eerily reminiscent of a miss on a potential winner against Tampa Bay last season before the Buccaneers rallied for the win. It also resembled a pair of less consequential misses in New Orleans’ season-opening win over Minnesota.
“I missed a big kick last year and was able to learn from it,’’ Hartley said. “I plan on doing the same thing.’’
The game was a back-and-forth thriller that was expected from longtime rivals who appear to be the best teams in the NFC South. There were four lead changes amid bizarre blunders and big plays.
Matt Ryan passed for 228 yards and touchdowns of 13 yards to Gonzalez and 22 yards to Roddy White to give the Falcons (2-1) their second straight win. Michael Turner added 30 carries for 114 yards and a 1-yard TD plunge.
Gonzalez wound up being Ryan’s top target with eight catches for 110 yards, while White had five catches for 69 yards.
“This is a huge victory for us,’’ Ryan said. “We have a lot of high expectations of ourselves and we fought the entire game to get us in position to win.’’
Lance Moore had a pair of TD catches for New Orleans (2-1), including a career-long 80-yarder. He finished with six catches for 149 yards and also had a career-long 72-yard punt return to set up Jeremy Shockey’s short TD catch on New Orleans’ first drive.
The most unusual play occurred when Thomas Morstead’s punt hit Atlanta’s Thomas DeCoud on the heel as it came down near the sideline and bounced straight up. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham grabbed it and, just before falling out of bounds, tossed it back to long-snapper Jason Kyle, who tapped toes on both feet down like a receiver just inside the sideline.
New Orleans converted the turnover into Moore’s second TD, a 16-yard catch and run for a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter.
Atlanta responded with an 80-yard drive to regain the lead in the fourth quarter, with Ryan converting a third-and-10 with a pass to Gonzalez and another third down with his scoring strike to White.
Brees (30 of 38, 365 yards, 3 TDs) drove the Saints into field goal range at the end of the fourth quarter, in part by converting a fourth-and-1 pass to Shockey for a 6-yard gain.
Ryan minimized mistakes, going 19 of 30 with no interceptions and taking only one sack by Will Smith.
“I am so proud of how we converted [nine] third downs,’’ Ryan said. “That was a huge factor throughout the game.’’