Falcons send Saints to first loss 27-24 in OTBy BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer Monday, Sep 27, 2010
When the Saints flushed Ryan out of the pocket, sending him scrambling toward the sideline, Atlanta’s third-year quarterback found Gonzalez for a drive-extending diving catch.
Whenever Ryan needed a conversion on third down—even on fourth down—he couldn’t go wrong by looking for Gonzalez.
The pair’s extraordinary chemistry in the clutch—along with a little luck on Saints kicker Garrett Hartley’s(notes) missed overtime field goal—allowed the Falcons to escape New Orleans with a 27-24 victory on Sunday.
“He’s such a talented player,” Ryan said of his veteran tight end. “You just have to trust him regardless of who goes out there and covers him.”
Ryan was 19 of 30 for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He hit Roddy White(notes) five times for 69 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown. Michael Turner(notes) rushed for 114 yards with a 1-yard TD for the Falcons (2-1), who finally seized the victory on Matt Bryant’s(notes) 46-yard field goal with 1:55 left in overtime.
It was Gonzalez, though, who gave the defending champions the most trouble. New Orleans (2-1) tried covering him with linebackers and defensive backs. Neither worked.
Ryan found Gonzalez eight times for 110 yards, including a 13-yard scoring strike on third down and a fourth-down connection that kept a second TD drive alive. Five of Gonzalez’s catches came on third down and one came on fourth down. Together, those six catches produced five first downs and a touchdown.
“He’s just a tough guy to defend,” Ryan said. “I haven’t figured it out yet which is a better way to defend him. Hopefully nobody ever figures it out.”
The Saints can only hope Hartley, a playoff hero last season who also hit a game-winning kick at San Francisco in Week 2 of this season, can figure out how to hit field goals consistently again.
After nailing a 32-yarder with 4 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, Hartley hooked his potential gamewinner badly to the left from 29 yards out.
“I missed basically an extra point,” Hartley said. “It was clearly my mistake. … It’s the highs and lows of being a kicker.”
Hartley’s hook resembled a missed potential gamewinner against Tampa Bay last season before the Buccaneers rallied for an unlikely win. It also resembled a pair of less consequential misses in New Orleans’ season-opening win over Minnesota. This season, Hartley is 4 of 7 on field goal tries.
Saints coach Sean Payton spoke with Hartley after the game, but had no interest in making that exchange public or discussing the possibility of looking into other kickers.
“He pulled his kick. Certainly he has to play better than that,” Payton said. “But there are a lot of us that have to do a better job.”
New Orleans’ blunders went beyond Hartley’s botched kick. Rookie Chris Ivory fumbled on a fourth-and-1 carry on the Atlanta 32 and Drew Brees(notes) threw his first two interceptions of the season in the first half.
In the end, the mistakes left the Saints unable to capitalize on a career performance by Lance Moore(notes), who in Reggie Bush’s(notes) absence returned a punt a personal best 72 yards to set up Jeremy Shockey’s(notes) TD. Moore then added two touchdown catches of his own, including a career-long 80-yarder, and finished with six catches for 149 yards.
Brees finished 30 of 38 for a season-high 365 yards and three TDs, but dwelled afterward on his interceptions, particularly the second one, which came on an ill-advised underhanded flip as he fell forward.
“That was not like me. I was disappointed in myself,” Brees said. “We missed some opportunities in some short yardage situations. We need to go back to the drawing board a little bit. The answer is to find a way to win in the end.”