ATLANTA — Mike Smith sent out the punting team for the Atlanta Falcons, then changed his mind.
Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake.
The Falcons were stuffed on fourth down deep in their own territory after the coach decided to go for it in overtime, setting up John Kasay to kick a 26-yard field goal that handed the New Orleans Saints a 26-23 victory Sunday.
The Falcons (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 own 29.
Michael Turner was stuffed, and Kasay made the winning kick for the Saints (7-3), his fourth field goal of the game.
New Orleans 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 call that backfired horribly.
After each offense went three-and-out on its first possession of overtime, Atlanta faced third-and-1 from the 29. Matt Ryan flipped a pass to Cox, the backup fullback, who was met short of the 30 but stretched out the ball with his right arm, appearing to get it across the line. 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 on the punting team, then called timeout. 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.
Ryan handed off to Turner, but the bruising runner never had a chance. He actually lost a couple of feet, and the jubilant Saints took over. Four plays later, Kasay ended the game.
A disconsolate Smith walked slowly across the field to shake hands with his New Orleans counterpart, Sean Payton, who coached the game on crutches in his return to the sideline after a collision with one of his players left him with a broken left leg and severe knee injuries nearly a month ago.
Drew Brees went 30 of 43 for 322 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Ryan threw a staggering 52 passes, completing 29 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. Turner rushed for 96 yards, but couldn't get the one yard that mattered most.
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 passes 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 23-20.
With only one timeout remaining – Smith lost one early in the half by losing a challenge of a Saints completion – the Falcons felt compelled to try an onside kick. It didn't work.
The Saints converted one third down, but failed on their next attempt and sent out Kasay for a 45-yard try. He drilled it 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 Harry Douglas on completions totaling 66 yards, and Atlanta actually had plenty of time to take three shots at the end zone for a winning touchdown.
They caught a break on Ryan's first throw over the middle, which was right in the hands of New Orleans safety Roman Harper. He couldn't hang on. Ryan then looked for White, but Jabari Greer got a hand on the ball to knock it away. With 10 seconds left, Ryan dropped back one more time, saw no one open and just threw it over the end zone. Bryant trotted on to make his third field goal.
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