Falcons send Saints to first loss 27-24 in OT

As blitzing linebacker Jonathan Vilma stormed in for a crushing

hit, Matt Ryan zipped a quick scoring pass over the middle to Tony

Gonzalez.

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 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 five times for 69 yards,

including a 22-yard touchdown. Michael Turner rushed for 114 yards

with a 1-yard TD for the Falcons (2-1), who finally seized the

victory on Matt Bryant’s 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 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, who in Reggie Bush’s absence

returned a punt a personal best 72 yards to set up Jeremy Shockey’s

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.”