Hartley redeems himself as Saints capture 'statement win'
NOV 18, 2013 4:52p ET
The Saints improved to 8-2 and have a 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC South over the Carolina Panthers, who play at home against New England on Monday night. With the victory, the Saints exceeded last season's win total of seven.
Rob Ryan's defense proved they can step up and stop one of the most potent offenses in a clutch situation.
Kicker Garrett Hartley also booted his way to redemption after a tough stretch where he missed four of his past six field goal attempts, then watched the Black and Gold tryout five kickers as backups last week in case his struggles continued.
Hartley was desperate to find a way to ensure the rough patch was over, so he called mentor and former Saints kicker John Carney en route to the game for some words of wisdom.
Carney advised Hartley to stay emotionally detached and wait patiently for his opportunity.
That advice precipitated Hartley's three successful field goals, including the 31-yarder that put San Francisco away, with just two seconds left in the game.
For Hartley, that kick in particular was definitely sweeter than most.
"People always say forget about it and move on to the next one, but I'm my hardest critic," Hartley said. "From everyone that tried to share their two cents with me on Twitter, it's part of it. The same fans that will cheer, are the same fans that will share their disapproval, is a nice way of saying it. But this team and this coaching staff and this organization never took their foot off the gas with me, and here we are."
This is a Saints team that has weathered more than its share of adversity, in many ways. Hartley's teammates have been firmly behind him.
"A lot of guys have been giving him a pat on the back," Brees said. "It doesn't always go the way you planned. God doesn't give you what you want, he gives you what you need sometimes. Sometimes you've got to fight through that adversity and understand that it's part of the grand plan. It's there to mold you and strengthen you so that you become the player that you were meant to be. Garrett has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. He's made a lot of big kicks for it. That's just the life of a kicker at times."
Sunday was the second time this season that Hartley has kicked a field goal on the game's final play, along with the 17-16 win at Tampa Bay in Week 2. It's also the second time in his career that Hartley has kicked a game-ending field goal to beat the 49ers. The first came in 2010 - Week Two - at San Francisco.
This is the latest episode of an embattled Saints player or unit proving the critics wrong, much to the delight of head coach Sean Payton.
"It's good to see," Payton said. "Like I said during the week, there is a lot of white noise that we don't pay attention to and just keep focusing. I love the way Hartley responded. Last week it was the offensive line and Mark Ingram. This week it's Hartley. I loved to see that."
The Saints play their next two games on the road, beginning Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is at 7:25 p.m. CST. The Saints then face the bright lights of Monday Night Football on December 2 in Seattle against the 10-1 Seahawks, who lead the NFC and will be well-rested after their bye week break.