Risky call, wrong answer
Falcons’ gamble backfires in OT
ATLANTA - A disconsolate Mike Smith watched the chip-shot field goal sail through the uprights, then walked slowly across the field, his head down, to shake hands with the other coach.
Smith knew this loss was on him.
John Kasay kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime after the Atlanta coach decided to go for it on fourth down deep in his own territory yesterday, a decision that backfired horribly and handed the New Orleans Saints a 26-23 victory over the Falcons.
“I know it will be scrutinized all week long,’’ Smith said. “I want everybody to understand I take full responsibility.’’
New Orleans (7-3) took control of the NFC South race, snapping Atlanta’s three-game winning streak. But this one will be long remembered for Smith’s gutsy but ill-fated call, especially if this loss comes back to cost the defending division champion Falcons a return to the playoffs.
Atlanta (5-4) rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, tying it on Matt Bryant’s 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.
In overtime, Atlanta appeared to pick up a first down on a pass to Mike Cox, but he was ruled just short after referee Terry McAuley looked at the replay. Then, stunningly, Smith decided to go for it on fourth down from his 29.
Michael Turner was stuffed.
“We were going to be aggressive in all that we did,’’ Smith said. “Unfortunately, it did not work out.’’
Smith added he did not want to risk giving the ball back to the Saints with a punt and not being able to stop the Drew Brees-led offense.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t have faith in the defense. That’s a very good quarterback,’’ he said.
After each team went three-and-out on its first possession of overtime, Atlanta faced third and 1 from its 29. Matt Ryan flipped a pass to Cox, the backup fullback, who was met short of the 30 but extended his right arm. It was initially ruled a first down, but the replay showed he was bobbling the ball as he was going down along the sideline, and the spot was moved back.
The Falcons initially sent out the punting team, then called time out. After thinking it over, Smith decided to go for it, figuring his team could pick up the foot or so needed to keep the drive going.
Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake.
Ryan handed off to Turner, but the bruising runner never had a chance. He was swarmed by a pile of defenders and actually lost a couple of feet, and the jubilant Saints took over. Four plays later, Kasay won it with his fourth field goal of the game.
“I just saw a guy in my face as soon as I got the ball,’’ Turner said. “I would like to have it back. I would love to be in that situation again.’’
Brees went 30 of 43 for 322 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Marques Colston had eight catches for 113 yards.
Ryan threw a staggering 52 passes, completing 29 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. Harry Douglas became his favorite receiver after rookie Julio Jones left the game, sidelined again by an ailing hamstring. Douglas finished with eight receptions for 133 yards.
Turner rushed for 96 yards, but couldn’t get the 1 yard that mattered most.
“We’ve just got to get a couple inches. Make that play and move on,’’ center Todd McClure said. “I like the fact our coach has faith in us to make the play.’’
In regulation, Atlanta was down to its last chance, facing fourth and 3 at the New Orleans 45 with about 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Ryan kept the drive going by hitting Roddy White on a 6-yard completion, then struck quickly with two more completions to make a game of it. A 19-yarder to White was followed by a 20-yard touchdown to Tony Gonzalez with 4:13 to go, bringing the Falcons to within 23-20.
With only one timeout remaining, the Falcons tried an onside kick. It didn’t work.
The Saints moved into position to give Kasay a 45-yard try. He drilled the kick right down the middle, but Jimmy Graham was called for holding and New Orleans decided to back up the Falcons with a punt.
After Eric Weems made a fair catch at the Atlanta 5, the Falcons put together a clutch drive that forced OT. Ryan hooked up three times with Douglas, for 66 yards, before Bryant kicked his third field goal.