Sep 27, 2010 11:12 AM by Posted by Sharlee Barriere
RANT: We want to hear from the Who Dat fans. What went wrong Sunday afternoon? Was it the decision to kick so early in overtime? Was it the absence of Reggie Bush? Should Garrett Hartley be replaced? Do you even care about one loss? RANT by clicking the RANT icon on katc.com. We could air your opinions tonight.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - 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 Sunday.
"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 4 seconds left in regulation.
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-yard line. Resigned to defeat as he watched from the sideline, Atlanta's 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 gamewinner 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 one would expect 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, who was 30 of 38 for 365 yards and three TDs, drove the Saints into game-tying 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.
Last season, Hartley sent the Saints to the franchise's first Super Bowl with an overtime game-winner in the NFC title game and made three field goals during the Super Bowl. He also clinched the Saints' Week 2 win at San Francisco last Monday night with a 37-yard, partially blocked field goal at the end of regulation.
He just couldn't come through in OT this time, but his teammates tried to deflect the blame elsewhere. Brees cited his two first-half interceptions. Brent Grimes picked off the first on a long, inaccurate pass. DeCoud got the second when Brees tried an ill-advised, Brett Favre-style underhanded flip as he fell forward.
Brees also was sacked by John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux, and rookie Chris Ivory fumbled on a fourth-and-1 play at the Atlanta 32.
"It's not just about missing the field goal at the end," Brees said. "There were a lot of things prior to that."
Ryan minimized mistakes, going 19 of 30 with no interceptions and taking only one sack by Will Smith.
The third-year quarterback showcased his determination and accuracy on a 19-play, 72-yard drive that consumed 10:39 of the second quarter and tied the game on Turner's TD at 14 shortly before halftime. Ryan converted a third-and-short with a quarterback keeper that required a second effort. He converted another third down with a pass to Gonzalez along the sideline while scrambling right. Then he converted two fourth-and-short plays with quick passes over the middle.
"I am so proud of how we converted (nine) third downs," Ryan said. "That was a huge factor throughout the game."
Notes: Hartley is 4 of 7 on field goals this season. ... Saints CB Tracy Porter left the game with a tight right hamstring and missed most of regulation before returning briefly in overtime. ... The Falcons are now 1-1 in OT this season, including a season opening loss at Pittsburgh.