November 13, 2011

Saints Win in Overtime on Defense's Huge Fourth Down Stand, 26-23

On a day when the Falcons couldn't stop the vaunted Brees-to-Colston attack, the Saints defense had a hard time stopping the unexpected Ryan-to-Douglas attack.  That's Harry Douglas, the least known of Atlanta's rich offensive set of weapons.

Roman Harper dropped the game at the Saints' goal line and could have stopped the Falcons' final game-tying drive with an interception, as the Saints found their game in hand turning into a desperate attempt to stop Matt Ryan's final drive in regulation.

Up by three with 1:55 left and having pinned Matt Ryan at his own five yard line with no timeouts, the Saints defense left the middle of the field empty and allowed the Falcons to move not just for a game-tying field goal but for the win.  The Saints defense, as it had done all day, stiffened a the goal line and it was Matt Bryant's 27-yard field goal as time expired that sent the divisional rivals to overtime.

The Falcons gambled big with a 4th down and inches conversion at their own 30 in overtime, and the Saints' defense won the day with a huge goal line stand.  Taking over at the Falcon 29, Brees moved the Saints into position for John Kasay's fourth field goal of the day, which won the game halfway into overtime.

The Saints now head to their bye week at 7-3 and in control of the NFC South.

Sean Payton returned to the sidelines, wearing a heavy leg brace and crutches, but it was still Pete Carmichael  Jr. calling the plays from the large playsheet.

The Saints lost the coin toss for the 10th straight game, then lost their 11th coin toss in overtime.

The Falcons went to Michael Turner for their first two plays, and on the second Turner gashed the Saints for 14 yards, breaking multiple tackles.  But a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on WR Roddy White, called by the ever-officious Terry McAuley, moved the Falcons back.

Greer was leveled by FB Mike Cox on the third snap.  Greer lowered his head into Cox but ended up curling his helmet into Cox's knees, a dangerous looking play especially considering Tracy Porter's scary neck injury last week.

Starting LB Jonathan Casillas on the Falcons' first third down conversion had Turner dead to rights in the open field with Turner at a jog, but hesitated and didn't attack.  Casillas eventually dove back Turner and tripped his ankles, but Turner was able to stretch past him to pick up the first down, disappointing defeat for the young linebacker.

Three plays later Turner was untouched through the line and dragged down in Saints territory after a 14-yard gain and a first down.  Rookie WR Julio Jones gained another first down by drawing a pass interference flag from Tracy Porter for 15 yards on a crossing pattern.

LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, starting in place of Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker, jumped offsides to move the Falcons into the Saints redzone.  Diminutive rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers picked up a couple carries on this drive for the Falcons, and was inches short of the line to set up a 3rd and 1 from the Saints 15 with 8:14 left.  Turner bowled over right tackle for a short gain on the 12th play of the drive.

An overthrown  fade to Tony Gonzales in the end zone and a Turner run dropped for a loss by SS Roman Harper set up 3rd and 10, and a false start on Will Svitek made it 3rd and 15 from the Saint 18.

With three down linemen, Will Smith and Junior Gallette rushing from the edge, Ryan dumped it off immediately to Rodgers, who tipped the pass up into the air as Casillas drilled him.  The dangerous pass fell incomplete, and the Saints had turned the Falcons back in the red zone.  Matt Bryant's 36-yard field goal with 6:24 left in the quarter was barely good inside the right upright.

Darren Sproles nearly broke the Falcons' kickoff, after faking an end around to WR Courtney Roby he broke through and ran through a tackle by the punter Matt Bosher.  But Sproles stumbled afterwards and Bosher was credited with the touchdown-saving tackle.

The Saints offense, cooled and impatient on the sideline for more than half the first quarter.

On the Saints first third down attempt, Marques Colston went up high to haul in a pass, pull it down into his body fast and take the big hit from MLB Curtis Lofton for the first down into Falcon territory.  On the next play, he went right back to Colston at the sticks for another first down.

After four straight passes to open the game, a Pierre Thomas run picked up five yards then Mark Ingram's first run after his healthy return was dropped for a two yard loss, setting up 3rd and 7 from the Falcon 35.  TE Jimmy Graham, the league leader in receptions, dropped a shallow route in the flat.

That brought on K John Kasay, who tied the game with a barely-inside the right uprights kick from 52 yards out with 2:53 left in the quarter.

The Saints set up a long third down on the Falcons' second drive, stopped Turner for a short gain then rookie DE Cam Jordan tipped Ryan's pass at the line, incomplete.  Jacquizz Rodgers was stopped just short of the line on an underneath pass, dragged down by backup LB Ramon Humber.

The Saints responded with a three-and-out of their own, when Jimmy Graham dropped his second straight third down catch.  P Thomas Morstead's kick angled sharply to the left sideline, but Eric Weems decked Courtney Roby after the play, drawing a second unnecessary roughness call on the Falcons.  Thanks to the Morstead's 29-yard poor effort, the Falcons still got the ball at their own 45, and moved into Saints territory with a strike to Roddy White behind the linebackers on first down for 17 yards.

The Falcons faced 3rd and 6 from the Saint 35 after two Turner runs, and a high-flying catch by Julio Jones at the sticks made the conversion against Tracy Porter, who took out his legs.  A favorable spot set up first down at the Saint 29.  A 13-yard run by the shifty Rodgers pu tthe Falcons into the red zone, where Matt Ryan would face 3rd and 5 from the Saint 11.  A shot into the end zone was incomplete for Julio Jones, masterfully defended by CB Jabari Greer.

The Saints had allowed the Falcons into the red zone twice but forced two field goals, the second from 29 yards for Bryant.

Graham got back into the swing of things with a good tough catch at the sideline for a first dowen to the Saint 32, and a strike to Colston for 14 picked up another.  The Saints reached midfield but were unable to convert 3rd and 5 with a pass to Sproles over the middle, and Morstead punted.

The Saints defense stopped Turner for a short gain and then pushed Rodgers back for a loss, setting up 3rd and 10 from the Atlanta 26.  The Saints rushed three linemen, with Junior Galette getting to Ryan's ankle before a late-blitzing Roman Harper drilled and dropped Ryan for the sack.  Harper now has 6.5 sacks on the season.

The Saints got the ball at midfield thanks to an ineligible man downfield penalty and a great return by Sproles. Brees and Graham went to work redeeming Graham's earlier drops.  With 2:34 left in the half, Brees found Graham wide open deep left for a 29 yard gain, and two plays later found Graham all by himself in the end zone for the score.  Graham slam-dunked the crossbar of the goal post, knocking it off balance.  For Kasay's extra point, the goal post was visibly listing.

The Saints were up 10-6 with 2:34 left in the half, as Graham set the Saints' team record for catches by a tight end.

Ryan hit TE Tony Gonzales for nine but then fired incomplete for Jones, again broken up beautifully by Greer.  Sproles' fair catch attempt was interfered with by Weems, another special teams mistake by him, setting the Saints up with the ball at midfield just inside the two minute warning.  In hurry-up offense, Brees hit Graham for seven then went to him deep down the seam incomplete.

On 3rd and short, Brees stepped up and fired for Lance Moore over the middle, tangled up with CB Brent Grimes.  Officials threw a flag but then conferred, picking up the flag.  The Saints wasted a golden opportunity from midfield right before halftime, and faced fourth and three from the Atlanta 45 with 1:17 left on the clock.

Morstead's soccer-style punt hit at the five and stopped, bounding around until Courtney Roby downed it at the 1.  And the Falcons may have played it safe had not Michael Turner given the Falcons some breathing room with a run up to the 14 with :47 left.  A hands to the face call on Greer gave the Falcons an automatic first down at their own 19 with :41 left on a long incompletion.

The Saints defense split wide open with Ryan hit Harry Douglas over the middle for a 46-yard gain, run down by Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper at the Saint 35.  It appeared that veteran backup Leigh Torrence was lost in coverage.  Ryan scrambled out of shotgun for a nine yard gain and called their final timeout with 23s remaining in the half.  The Falcons ran up the middle for the short first down and then spiked the clock with 10s left.

The Falcons lined up four wide in shotgun for a shot into the end zone.  Ryan couldn't find anything, and fired out of the back of the end zone with 4s left.  Bryant lined up for a 41 yard field goal attempt, which hooked just outside the left upright.  Still, the Saints defense had to be upset having given up that many yards to Ryan on the two minute drill, having pinned them deep at the 1.

Halftime arrived as Sean Payton was carted to the locker room up 10-6.  Brees finished the first half 11/18 for 117 yards and the score, extending his consecutive games with a touchdown pass streak to 37, second longest in league history.   TE Jimmy Graham had five of those completions but also accounted for two drops, and led with 73 yards receiving.

Brees' 117 in the air accounted for all but four of the Saints' total 121 yards offense in the half, compared to 199 for the Falcons, who dominated the time of possession with over 20 minutes.  The Saints converted only one third down conversion on five attempts, compared to three of eight for Atlanta.

Accepting the opening kickoff, the Saints moved quickly into Falcon territory on an across-the-body throw by Brees to Meachem, who made a great catch after coming back for the ball and preventing it from hitting turf.  The 36-yard gain was followed by a 16 and 9 yard runs by Pierre Thomas.  But the drive stalled at the Falcon 28, with Thomas stopped for a four yard loss, then a far left lateral to Sproles stopped for little gain.

From 40 yards out, John Kasay's field goal looked identical to Bryant's, shaving the edge off of the outside of the left upright, no good.

CB Tracy Porter, starting today despite being carted off with an immobilized next last week, made a strong play to blow up a quick screen to Douglas for a two yard loss, fighting off a blocker and making the tackle.  The Falcons converted 3rd and long with a shallow crossing pattern to Douglas.  Porter made another good play forcing a fumble on Turner, but the ball rolled out of bounds after a 24-yard run by Turner.

The Falcons rushed to the line and on 4th and inches with 5:50 left in the third quarter, the Saints defensive line got great penetration on the right hand side but Turner ran left and was dragged down after a five yard gain to the Saint 21.

On the next play, Ryan ducked away from a sack and dumped off to RB Jason Snelling underneath, who bowled through two gang tackles and the seven Saints to score from 21 yards out.  A tremendous effort by Snelling, who finally bowled through Harper for the score and the 13-10 lead.

Brees responded by coming out firing, hitting Colston for another textbook 15-yard gain, and another for 19 yards on 3rd and 8.  Three plays later Brees looked deep for WR Robert Meachem, who made an over-the-shoulder catch at the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown to respond to Snelling's.

After allowing Roddy White wide open for a 20-yard kneeling-catch gain, the Saints stuffed Turner and then drew an offensive pass interference flag from Tony Gonzales, who pushed off of Jabari Greer.  That brought up 2nd and 19 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Ryan's pass, pressured by Will Smith, was behind Roddy White and bounced into the hands of LB Scott Shanle, who rumbled forward for 12 yard to the Falcon 26.  Brees-to-Colston hurt the Falcons again for 15 and a first down, Brees' 20th completion of the game, 11 to Colston or Graham.

LT Jermon Bushrod was called holding on DT Jonathan Babineaux on 2nd down, setting up 2nd and 20 for the Saints.  A shot into the end zone for Devery Henderson was incomplete, then a screen to Sproles was tipped and blown up by S Thomas DeCoud on third down.  Shanle's interception would get cashed in by Kasay on a long, knuckle-balling 48-yard field goal kick.

The Saints led 20-13 early in the fourth quarter.

On the next drive, MLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in a fracas with G Joe Hawley, moving the Falcons to the their own 44.    Greer single-handed fought off a block and snuffed out a Harry Douglas end-around after only a three yard run.  On 3rd and 7, Douglas then dropped a first down catch, forcing a punt.

Sproles fair caught the punt at the Saint 12.  Brees and Lance Moore immediately gave the Saints breathing room with an easy 28-yard reception in stride down the left sideline.  Even on a day when the Saints were beating the Falcons dizzy with Colston and Graham, it is so easy with weapons with Lance Moore to keep the defense frustrated.  Moore then drew a five-yard defensive holding penalty for another first down.

Three plays later on 3rd and 5, Brees hit Colston again for 18 yards, running laterally in the middle of the field for his seventh catch on the day.  Ingram was stopped for a shot gain on a run, then a six yard completion to Graham set up 3rd and 4.

But the drive stalled again by another mistake from TE Jimmy Graham, who didn't even look for Brees' pass short left.  The ball hit Graham in the ankles, setting up another John Kasay field goal from 44 yards out.  Kasay's kick was just inside the right goal post - no kick is easy today - and the Saints lead was stretched to 10 with 7:18 left in the game.

The Saints were winning despite a terrible showing in the run game.  At this point in the game, the Saints had 31 rush yards between all three runningbacks, with Sproles fighting a thigh contusion and a much smaller part of the offense today.  16 of those yards were on a single rush by Thomas in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, DE Jeff Charleston and LB Will Herring smashed Eric Weems at the Falcon 19.  The Falcons drove to midfield with a Tony Gonzales catch of 18 and passes to Weems of 9 and 5.

The Falcons called timeout, a pivotal 3rd down conversion coming up.  With Julio Jones missing most of the game with a hamstring injury, Ryan shot incomplete for Douglas in the back of the end zone.  But then Ryan got red hot.

On 4th and 3 with 4:29 left, Ryan hit Roddy White at the sideline for a gain of 6 against Jabari Greer, then hit White for 19 yards to the Saint 20.  On the next play, Ryan found Gonzales running free between two defenders and in for the touchdown.

With all the momentum, the Falcons attempted an onside kick right up the middle.  Lance Moore was there to alertly jump on the ball and he suffered a wicked hit.

With 4:12 left in the game, up by three, Brees dropped back and dumped off a pass to Pierre Thomas, who  was dropped for a short loss at the Falcon 45. The Saints took a timeout and on 2nd down, the Falcons finally stopped Brees-to-Colston at least once on a seam pass at the first down marker, the ball deflecting away from Colston.

But on 3rd an 11, the Falcons couldn't do it a second time, with Brees stepping up and throwing a high pass for Colston, who went up high to make the rebound over DeCoud.  A defensive holding flag on Kelvin Hayden was declined, and the Saints had a crucial first down.

TV cameras caught Payton making the first down signal with his crutch.

On first down, Mark Ingram ran hard, pushing the pile to make a four yard gain out of nothing, and prompting the Falcons' final timeout.

On 2nd and 6, Brees drew Babineaux offsides, and fist pumped in celebration.  Now with 2nd and 1 at the Falcon 23, Ray Edwards smashed Ingram for a four yard loss, having slipped behind RG Jahri Evans and evading pulling Carl Nicks.

The Saints milked all the time off the clock and called their second timeout with 2:13 left in the game before 3rd and 5.  With Pierre Thomas in single back formation and three wide, Brees dropped, pumped, was pressured and attempted a desperation shovel pass as he was tackled.

Kasay lined up for a 45-yard field goal attempt which was good, but Jimmy Graham was called for holding on the right wing as Brent Grimes rushed past him.  It was a terrible call, Graham had his right arm out, which Grimes hooked himself.  Graham didn't have a hold of him and had disengaged as Grimes ran past.

Kasay's field goal was nullified by that terrible call, and the Saints instead punted, with Weems fair catching the pass at his own 5.

Down by three with 1:55 left and no timeouts, Matt Ryan had his archrival and the NFC South lead in his hands.  WR Harry Douglas was unbelievably wide open over the middle on Ryan's two pass attempts, running up to midfield.  A false start on Roddy White gave the Saints a breather before Ryan fired deep again, overthrowing Douglas and nearly getting intercepted.

On the next snap again, Douglas shook off Leigh Torrence and was wide open over the middle, for a 20-yard gain to the Saint 33.  Tony Gonzales caught a five yard pass at the sideline to the Saint 29.

The Saints were forced to use their final timeout with :46 when Torrence stayed kneeling on the turf injured.  The crowd booed but the Saints were forced to use their last timeout because of the injury.

Ryan, leveled by Roman Harper on the blitz, overthrew an open Gonzales at the sidelines, bringing up 3rd and 6 with :41 left.  With the all-out blitz coming, Tracy Porter went up and interfered with Roddy White, bumping him in the back as he went around with the left arm.  Porter gave the Falcons a first down at the Saint 20 with :37 left.

Ryan, under heavy blitz again, fired incomplete into the end zone, and then overthrew Gonzales again, right into the hands of Roman Harper.  The Saints' strong safety dropped the gave-saving interception at the goal line, and the Falcons were still alive with 3rd and 10.

Ryan hit Weems, who beat Porter underneath, on a crossing route to get the first down at the Saint 9, and Ryan spiked it with :13 seconds left.

Facing Gregg Williams' mad pass rush, Ryan's next pass was dropped by Roddy White with Greer beaten in coverage with :10 left, and Mike Smith opted for one more shot into the end zone.  The Saints dropped eight in coverage, and Ryan threw it out of the back of the end zone.  That set up Bryant's 27-yard field goal attempt which was good with no time left on the clock, tying the game at 23 and sending it to overtime.

The Falcons took over at their own 20, and Ryan hit Douglas again for a gain of eight.  That was Douglas' eighth catch for 133 yards, topping Colston's eight catches for 113 yards in regulation.

Ryan fired incomplete deep for Douglas on second down and then had his third down quick hit to Douglas tipped by Jonathan Casillas.  The Falcons went to Douglas, their third string receiver and at best the fifth best option on offense, all three pass attempts to begin overtime.

The Saints started their first overtime drive at their own 27, running Pierre Thomas wide for very little gain.  Thomas gained seven on a second down pass, setting up 3rd and 3.  Brees in shotgun pass quickly to Sproles on the outlet, who was stopped short of the line by three Falcons defenders who recognized the play immediately.

The two teams had exchanged three-and-outs, and Morstead fired a booming punt that nicked the front corner of the end zone instead of going out of bounds.

Ryan was still firing on his second possession, going deep for - guess who, Harry Douglas, which was underthrown and covered by Jenkins.  Buried by the pass rush on second down, Ryan hit Gonzales for nine  yards, setting up third down.  Ryan had eclipsed his career high for passing yardage and on third down, hit FB  Mike Cox in the right flat, who was immediately tackled by Dunbar at the sideline.

Cox was spotted having gained the first down, but lost control of the ball as he outstretched his arm across the line.  The ball rolled out of bounds.  In overtime, the replay review was initiated by the replay booth.  It was clear that Cox fumbled, and since you cannot gain yardage on a fumble, Cox was ruled to have been short of the first down marker by half a yard.

Mike Smith took a timeout to ponder the fourth and inches attempt from his own 30.  The Falcons were pressing the issue here, and the Saints responded with a timeout of their own as the Falcons put their goal line squad on the field.

Right up the middle, the Falcons were stuffed.  The Saints defense surged and pushed the line of scrimmage back.  Turner spun three yards shy of the first down and was stopped by a charge led by Malcolm Jenkins and Jonathan Casillas.  A huge victory for Gregg Williams' defense.

The Saints took over at the Falcon 29, Turner having been dropped for a yard loss.  Mark Ingram picked up two yards rush, then Brees dropped back and hit FB Jed Collins in the right flat for a 12 yard gain down to the Falcon 14.  Eschewing the field goal still, Brees handed off to Ingram who bulled ahead for six yards.

John Kasay trotted on for the easy 26-yard field goal, hitting his 14th career game-winning field goal in the final two minutes or overtime.  The Saints had won thanks to a risky call by Mike Smith and a huge defensive stop for Gregg Williams.

Brees finished the game 30/43 for 322 yards and two touchdowns, one to Graham (7/82) and one to Meachem (2/69).  It wasn't much of a showing for the Saint runningbacks, with Sproles limited by a thigh contusion and Pierre Thomas leading the way with 29 of the Saints' 41 total rushing yards.

Marques Colston was unstoppable, owning the Falcons for eight catches for 113 yards.

Matt Ryan finished 28/51 for 351 yards, a personal best on the strength of a furious passing attack at the end of the game.  Michael Turner finished with 22 carries for 96 yards.

Notes: TE David Thomas was injured and left the field in the fourth quarter...

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