November 3, 2009

Scratch and Win: Saints joust Falcons to 35-27 win

  • It took a frantic final three minutes of regulation to finally best their arch-rivals, but the Saints are 7-0 with a three game advantage over the NFC South.

  • It is only the second time in franchise history the Saints have won their first seven games, and they've never done what they will attempt to do on Sunday. The 1991 Saints started 7-0 but stumbled to an 11-5 finish and an early playoff exit. They lost their eighth game at home to Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears.

  • The sellout, raucous Superdome crowd hit jet engine volume early on but was silenced by an efficient eight-play, 77 yard Falcons drive that took 3:57 off the clock. QB Matt Ryan hit on three of four passes and RB Michael Turner rushed for 38 yards on four carries including the final 12 on a drive that looked very easy. Both CB Jabari Greer and S Darren Sharper took bad angles on Turner and the runningback scooted around the end towards the right pylon.

    The drive featured a short seven-yard pass to future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzales, who juked out stumbling Saints LB Marvin Mitchell for twenty more yards down to the Saint 13.

  • The Saints offense was up to the task of responding to that opening salvo. All three runningbacks, both tight ends and Lance Moore touched the ball on a workman-like 10-play, 80 yard drive that took 5:37 off the clock. On 3rd down and 4 just outside the red zone, RB Pierre Thomas blasted through a tackle attempt by CB Chevis Jackson, parried a dive by DE John Abraham, regained his balance and sprinted right up the middle, getting crucial blocks downfield by receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore. The 22-yard touchdown run tied up the game.

  • During the touchdown, Pierre Thomas' simple hula dance celebration drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when TE Jeremy Shockey tried to join him. The NFL prohibits celebrations by more than one player.

  • That penalty moved the kickoff back and set the Falcons up at midfield. Marvin Mitchell drew the ire of Sean Payton by jumping offsides to give the Falcons a first down, the second big gaffe of the backup middle linebacker. The Saints defense recovered to force a punt that pinned the offense deep.

    It was on that drive that the Falcons started their all-night assault on Drew Brees, as a delayed blitz by safety Thomas DeCoud sacked Brees and forced a fumble that DE Kroy Biermann picked up and stepped into the end zone for a quick Dome-silencing touchdown. Brees took only one other sack on the night but was constantly harried by a fast Falcons D, who were officially credited with six quarterback hurries but were in Brees' face all night.

  • Stinging from that defeat, the Saints offense was again up to the task of responding. Brees marched the Saints down the field for another 80-yard drive, this one a 12-play, 6:36 drive that was capped by a sky-high Colston reeling in a Brees pass in double coverage for the touchdown. Colston, 6'4", had vertical dominance over 5'10" Falcons CB Brent Grimes all night. That drive featured a 10-yard pass to Colston on 3rd and 10 and a 27-yard pass to Shockey, who beat the defensive end somehow assigned to cover him. The Saints also overcame 2nd and 17 after a Falcons sack with a 16-yard catch and run to TE David Thomas and a Mike Bell third and short conversion.

  • Tied at 14, both offenses battled in the second quarter until the final 1:10 produced fireworks. Following the Colston touchdown, the Falcons moved into the Saints red zone on a 37-yard Turner romp but were stopped by a sturdy Saints defense, and K Jason Elam missed a short field goal.

    The Saints marched to the Falcon 28 on the strength of a 30-yard run by Pierre Thomas but Brees' slightly under thrown pass to Devery Henderson, wide open on the right sideline, was picked off by an incredible leaping Grimes, who put two hands on a ball that no miniature cornerback had business defending.

  • The Saints defense forced a quick three-and-out and got the ball back to the Brees at his own 20 with 2:46 left. He shredded the Falcons D with four passes: 15 yards to Colston, a screen to Bush for 7, 30 on a beautiful over-the-middle pass to Robert Meachem, and 24 to a twisting, sideline-skirting Devery Henderson. Two plays later, Reggie Bush walked it in from a yard out on a toss misdirection. It was a masterful drive by the league's best two-minute surgeon.

  • The Falcons got the ball back with one minute left when CB Jabari Greer fooled Ryan in zone coverage and picked off a pass for Roddy White. Greer zipped through the Falcons offense for a 48-yard touchdown return as the Superdome crowd ignited. 28-14 Saints.

  • Ryan used two passes to Tony Gonzales and all three timeouts to move his team back down the field in range of a 50-yard field goal with four seconds left, only to see Elam miss again, this time wide left.

  • Everyone caught their breath at halftime but the artillery was only taking a breather. The Saints held the ball for more than 17 minutes in the first half, draining precious stamina from the Falcons defense while the Saints allowed Ryan to complete only 9 of 18 passes, sacked and picked him off once, but had given up 89 yards on the ground to Michael Turner.

  • The Saints took the second half kickoff with an opportunity to put their lead to three scores but two incompletions and a short run forced a punt, much to Brees' dismay. The Falcons picked up 10 yards but thanks to a holding call, saw 2nd and 20 at their own 32. Ryan went deep to Roddy White against Jabari Greer, and despite an official watching, White was unflagged for offensive pass interference for pushing Greer in the back. White caught the bomb, Greer stumbled and it was a 68-yard score with 12:34 left in the third.

  • The Saints moved into the Falcon red zone but John Carney missed a 37-yard field goal wide right. It was a strange night, with potential Hall of Fame placekickers on both sides missing three field goals total.

  • The teams exchanged punts and the Falcons started their longest drive of the night, a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:45 off the clock into the fourth quarter, ending with an apparent touchdown pass to a diving Roddy White at the back of the end zone. The back judge was right on top of the play and inexplicably ruled it a touchdown, even though White trapped the ball against the ground with his helmet.

    Replay review overturned the call, and we give referee Jeff Triplette kudos for not protecting himself and his officiating crew from such an obvious error.

    The incompletion forced a short field goal from Elam to make it 28-24.

  • Saints runningbacks lost two controversial fumbles in the fourth quarter. On the next drive following the field goal, Pierre Thomas picked up 3rd and 1 but lost the ball underneath him. Replay appeared to show that Thomas quickly recovered the ball, but in the scrum, Falcons S Erik Coleman walked away with it, setting Ryan up at the Saint 34.

  • That's when the Saints' defense made their biggest play of the night. Turner spun out of the pile and blasted the Saints for 24 more yards out of his total 151 to the Saint 10 yard line. But Ryan's next pass to Tony Gonzales was altered by a leaping Jonathan Vilma's fingertips. The change in velocity allowed CB Tracy Porter, re-entering the game following a blow to the head from teammate Sharper, to close on the route and make the catch. Porter's huge interception preserved the Saints' lead and set Brees up at his own 19 with 8:30 left in the game.

  • The Saints' most important drive of the night was almost killed by a poor Brees pass on 3rd and 5 to Bush in the flat. But officials flagged LB Mike Peterson for defensive holding on Bush and a first down. Brees then hit Colston for 29, threw to Shockey who made an incredible backwards-falling one-handed catch for 17, Colston for 7, and Henderson for 6 to set up 3rd and goal from the one yard line.

    Pierre Thomas, who ended the Saints' last drive with a fumble, sought redemption. In tight formation with no receivers, Brees hit Thomas in the flat. With ultra-mobile right tackle Jon Stinchcomb paving the way, Thomas leaped over two tacklers and the goal line for a sensational touchdown to put his team up 35-24 with three minutes left.

  • But those last three minutes would be very, very long.

    Ryan had the Falcons on the move again when DE Will Smith, who abused LT Sam Baker all night, collected what would have been his third sack on Ryan, forcing an apparent fumble that scooted ten yards downfield before being recovered. But a replay review showed that Ryan still controlled the ball with his arm moving forward after Smith's hit, and it was ruled an incompletion.

  • Ryan fired incomplete on his next three passes and the Falcons turned it over on downs. The game should have been well within hand at that point and while the crowd celebrated outside, a strange turn of events took place.

    The Saints ran Mike Bell up the middle but a Falcons blocker continued action after the whistle and pushed a Saint into the front of C Jonathan Goodwin's right knee. Inside two minutes, an injury by the offense forced a timeout from the Saints, a crucial turn as the Falcons had just called their last timeout. Instead, the Saints were charged and that injury ended up preserving 40 seconds of game time for the Falcons.

    The Saints ran Bell up the middle twice more for no gain, but on third down, with Bell turned around and sitting on the pile, the referees failed to stop play and Bell was stripped of the ball. Falcons DB Coy Wire took it away from an incredulous Bell. A replay review called by the booth did not reverse the call, as stopping forward progress is not a reviewable play.

    That set the Falcons up at midfield with 1:23 left, and two quick passes by Ryan moved them to the Saint 23. A replay review was needed to rule a 16-yard Michael Jenkins catch complete on the sidelines.

    Huge play by DT Anthony Hargrove followed, when he sacked Ryan for a three yard loss, forcing the Falcons to gather quickly and spike the ball, taking 25 seconds off the clock. Ryan attempted one more pass complete out of bounds before Elam hit a 40-yard field goal with 32 ticks left on the clock.

  • The game was still not decided. The Falcons lined up for an onside kick with three men in the middle and four on each side. The Saints spread out accordingly but left one man deep, creating a mismatch. When the Falcons kicked to the middle, where the Saints only had two defenders, the whistles blew - Sean Payton had "iced" the kicker on an onsides kick with a timeout.

    The Falcons lined up again and with the Saints moving a man inside, they kicked left, where four Falcons fought for the ball against three Saints. It is a smart onsides kick formation where the placekicker is simply instructed to kick it to the side where the matchup is most favorable.

    Diving TE David Thomas had the easy shot at it but the ball bounced out of his grasp and into the bottom of a tall, fiesty pile. Minor fights broke out all over the field as the officials took minutes to unstack the pile. At the bottom, David Thomas and Wire had arms around the ball and possession was awarded to the Falcons, who now so improbably had a chance to tie the game with 26 seconds left at their own 37.

  • Ryan hit Jenkins for 14 yards to near midfield and then launched a desperation bomb to the end zone, where Saints S Darren Sharper went up high for the game-deciding interception. Brees kneeled the final 11 seconds off the clock.

  • Injuries to CB Tracy Porter, CB Jabari Greer, and RB Pierre Thomas all proved temporary as they returned to the game. The injury to C Jonathan Goodwin appears to just be a bruise, though it look very ugly when a player fell into the front of his planted leg.

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