Payton back for Saints' 26-23 OT win over Falcons
This was one game Sean Payton refused to watch from the press box, not with first place on the line, not for a game against his Saints' biggest rival.
So leaning on crutches, Payton was back on the sideline and Saints players said their coach's surprise return provided a lift.
New Orleans' defense came through with a fourth-down stop to set up a 26-yard field goal by John Kasay that gave the Saints a 26-23 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
''It was great having him,'' said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns. ''Just his presence. He couldn't wait to get back down there,''
Payton has had to watch games from the press box since a sideline collision on Oct. 17 left him with a broken leg and knee injuries. He still wears a big brace on his left leg.
He said he made the decision to return to the sideline early Sunday.
''Really, I just felt like this was an important game,'' Payton said. ''That presence is important. I talked to the doctors this morning.''
Ben Montgomery, the NFL's observer at the game, said due to safety concerns Payton was told he must remain a few yards away from the field.
''He has to stay behind the white box,'' Montgomery said, referring to the marked area where players and coaches normally stand.
It was as difficult to keep Payton out of the box as it was to keep him away from the sideline. He dodged traffic as he usually stood about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
''He definitely has a presence, and just seeing him out there is a comfortable feeling,'' said Saints receiver Marques Colston, who had eight catches for 113 yards. ''It is nice just knowing that your head coach is out there.''
The division rivals played their second overtime game in two years.
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, Falcons coach Mike 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.
''We felt like we had been very aggressive in everything we did throughout the day and we wanted to stay that way through the end of the ballgame,'' Smith said, adding he did not want to risk giving the ball back to the Saints with a punt and not being able to stop the Brees-led offense.
''It wasn't that we didn't have faith in the defense. That's a very good quarterback.''
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.
''I felt like if we're not going to be able to move the ball 2 or 3 inches then we're probably not going to win the football game,'' Smith said.
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.
''In that situation, when they are backed up like that, you have odds that they are not going to throw the ball,'' said Saints linebacker Scott Shanle, who had an interception. ''You really have to get penetration. I thought we did a great job of getting penetration on their line of scrimmage and that's what you've got to do against big backs like that.''
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.
Notes: Brees extended his NFL record with a 30th straight game completing at least 20 passes. ... Bryant missed a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, snapping his franchise-record streak of 30 in a row over two seasons. ... The Saints rushed for 41 yards on 16 carries.