Doug Miller, NewOrleansSaints
Sunday, October 21, 2007 – 4:20 PM
New Orleans, La. – The New Orleans Saints came back from a two point fourth quarter deficit and rallied for their second win in a row in an important NFC South showdown over the Atlanta Falcons. The 22-16 victory improved the Saints’ record in the NFC to 2-2 and 2-4 overall.
In a game that saw the lead change five times before it was all over, it was the Saints’ ability to make the big play when it was needed the most that proved to be the difference. Trailing 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Reggie Bush scored on a four-yard touchdown on a swing pass from Drew Brees with just over 5:00 to go to give the Saints a 20-16 lead. Bush then ran for a two-point conversion that upped the lead to 22-16. The Saints’ defense then did the rest, making the lead hold up and the Saints were able to force a late Atlanta punt that resulted in the Saints’ ability to run out the clock after picking up a first down.
“I thought that was a huge play in the game, quite obviously,” said Head Coach Sean Payton said of Bush’s touchdown. “That play he scored on was an outstanding special effort play. Not just by Reggie, but by the perimeter blocking as well.”
“That was a really tough win,” Payton continued. “We hung in there and faced some adversity and kept battling. I was pretty pleased with the effort of the entire team.”
“It was a big win for this organization,” said defensive end Charles Grant. “Last week we had five sacks, this week we had three and that was big for us. We have a lot of guys making plays right now and we were able to get after them a bit. Other teams are getting rid of the ball quickly, so we just had to work really hard to get that pressure on them.”
“We are sitting at 2-4 but we’re 2-2 in the division,” said Grant. “We just have to keep depending on each other. I like being the underdog.”
The Falcons accepted the opening kickoff and drove close to midfield before the Saints defense turned in two big plays. The first was a crunching open field tackle by Roman Harper on Falcons WR Michael Jenkins, and the second was a third down sack and by DE Charles Grant.
Lance Moore then ripped off a 48-yard punt return in which he juked the first man and then zipped up the sideline, picking up several key blocks along the way. The Saints were unable to convert Moore’s return into points, but did manage to back the Falcons up deep in their own territory courtesy of Steve Weatherford punt that was fair caught at the Atlanta 7 by return man Adam Jennings. The Saints’ defense then surrendered a mere two yards and again forced an Atlanta punt and began their second drive at the Atlanta 49.
“The punt return helped change the field position battle early on,” said Payton. “It was a big factor in our first score.”
The Saints took advantage of the field position and Bush ripped off 13 yards on consecutive carries. Brees then play-action faked and found a streaking Henderson matched up on linebacker Michael Boley down the seam for a highlight reel over the shoulder touchdown grab.
The Falcons turned in a big play of their own on the next series, as second-year speedster Jerious Norwood ripped off a 30-yard gain after getting around the corner. The Mississippi State product, who last week had a 67-yard TD run against the Giants, took the ball from the Atlanta 26 to the Saints’ 44. The Saints’ defense halted the Falcons at their own 20 and made the visitor’s settle for a Morten Andersen 38-yard field goal.
The Saints’ third offensive set of downs was stopped at their own 40-yard line after five plays. The Falcons began their next drive at their own 32 yard line and continued to try to run against the Saints, managing 10 yards and a first down on their first three plays of the drive. QB Byron Leftwich then hit rookie WR Laurent Robinson for a 23-yard gain and then hit Jenkins for a 19-yard gain to the Saints 16 yard line. Atlanta drove to the 10-yard line but they were backed up five yards by an illegal procedure call and were unable to convert a third down try and Andersen again hit a field goal, this time from 33 yards out.
Atlanta surprised the Saints by slipping in an on-side kickoff that Jennings recovered at the Atlanta 42 and the Falcons completed two quick passes as they moved into Saints’ territory. But the Saints’ defense blitzed Leftwich on two consecutive downs and held the Atlanta offense in check, forcing a punt that was fair caught by Moore at the Saints’ 13-yard line with 7:51 left in the second quarter. The Saints managed only five yards on three plays before punting the ball away and Atlanta started their drive at the Saints’ 44.
The Falcons capitalized on the good field position and drove the 44 yards in seven plays in 2:52. The Saints had the Falcons facing a third-and-15, but Leftwich connected with Jenkins for a 20-yard gain on the drive. The scoring play came on a third down pass from Leftwich to WR Roddy White that covered nine yards and gave the Falcons their first lead of the game, 13-7 with 3:31 left in second quarter.
The Saints then mounted a two-minute drive by a fourth down and one pass from Brees to TE Billy Miller was intercepted by LB Demorrio Williams just before the end of the first half. Brees said after the game he tried to slip the ball into Miller and that he saw the linebacker but tried the pass anyway, although he said in hindsight he wished he had tucked the ball in and ran for the first down. Time expired in the first half after one snap for the Falcons and the Saints re-grouped in their locker room.
The Saints then accepted the opening kickoff of the second half and hit a big play early, as Brees connected with TE Eric Johnson across the middle of the field for a 21-yard gain. Four plays later, Brees surprised the Falcons with a fourth down bootleg on a fourth-and one that went for nine yards and could have been more as Brees was pushed as he went out of bounds. The Saints then overcome a 10-yard holding call when Brees hit Johnson for a 15-yard gain and then Moore for a 10-yard pickup.
Rookie RB Pierre Thomas then picked up a block from center Jonathan Goodwin and made several more moves en route to a 24-yard touchdown run. It was Thomas’s second touchdown in as many weeks, having scored on a special teams fumble recovery last week. “That was a heck of a play,” said Payton. “The run was pretty good, obviously, and the blocking on that draw was good and Pierre showed good vision and patience.”
Atlanta’s first offensive series of the second half got off to a rocky start, as the initial handoff between Leftwich and FB Ovie Mughelli resulted in a fumble that Mughelli recovered after losing three yards. On the next play, Leftwich attempted to connect deep down the middle with former Saint Joe Horn, but the pass was incomplete and Leftwich was injured when Will Smith and Brian Young sandwiched the quarterback as he released the football. Leftwich’s ankle was described as an ankle injury as the veteran didn’t return to action the remainder of the afternoon.
Joey Harrington came in and misfired on his first pass and the Falcons were forced to punt and the Saints set up at their own 32. The Saints were unable to muster much on their second series and Steve Weatherford hit a 45-yard punt and rookie CB Usama Young tackle Jennings for a two-yard loss.
Harrington hit a key third down pass when he hit reserve TE Martez Minter for an 8-yard gain on a 3rd-and-7. Harrington and Laurent Robinson then connected on a 25-yard pass down the left sideline. But the Saints defense stiffened and pushed them back into their own territory after a three-yard loss on a running play and play in which a shotgun snap lost 16 yards and the Falcons again punted.
The Saints couldn’t overcome two holding calls that negated long plays and were forced to punt the ball away with just under a minute to go in the third quarter. Atlanta began at the Saints’ 40 and picked up a quick five yards on a pass from Harrington to Robinson but Norwood was stopped for no gain on second down from the Saints’ 35 on the final play of the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth, Harrington and White connected for a six yard gain and the first down. The Falcons were then guilty of two false start penalties that pushed them back to the 40, but Harrington hit White down the sideline for 32-yard gain on third down. The Saints then stopped the Falcons inside the 7 yard-line, but Andersen’s third field goal of the day gave the Falcons a 16-14 lead with 10:19 left in the game.
The Saints then marched 69 yards in 11 plays, with a 33-yard third-down completion from Brees to Marques Colston serving as the catalysts on the drive. Reggie Bush finished it off with a dynamic play on a third-and-goal from the 4 when he took a swing pass and was met at the one by S Lewis Sanders, who stood Bush up. But the second-year sensation broke free of Sanders’ grip and then dove into the end zone.
“How about Reggie Bush today?” asked LB Scott Fujita after the game. “That was unbelievable,” he said of the touchdown run. “He is so impressive. There was no chance he wasn’t going to score on that. Unreal. “
“The only thing that matters is that we won,” Bush said. “I was just excited to make a play. We had struggled at times during the game; it was a tough game today. But the win was important. We were both trying to get that second win.”
“I just kept fighting and didn’t know how I was going to get out of his arms, but somehow I did,” Bush said of his game-winning touchdown effort.
Bush then scored on an end around on the two-point conversion to give the Saints a 22-16 lead.
The Falcons, trailing by 6, started at their own 20 after a thundering Olindo Mare kickoff sailed out of the end zone for a touchback. Harrington completed a pass for 18 yards on a third-and-11 early in the drive which took the ball out to their own 32. The Saints stopped the Falcons near midfield as they turned up the pressure on Harrington and two screen passes fell incomplete. On third down just before to two minute warning, a screen pass fell incomplete to Warrick Dunn, who then spiked the bouncing ball and incurred a five yards delay of game penalty.
Atlanta Head Coach Bobby Petrino said after the game that he was considering going for it on fourth down. “When you get that fourth-and-eight and fourth-and-seven, you can still utilize some of your quick game and utilize some short catch and run. I was concerned about the protection and on a fourth-and-13 the percentages are not very good.”
The Falcons then punted and the Saints faced the prospect of running the clock out in the face of the Falcons’ three timeouts.
“We had three timeouts on the clock,” said Petrino. “Mike (Koenen) had been kicking the ball very well all day long. He had a nice punt there that got them at the 8 or 9 yard line. We had to have three stops.”
Bush took the first handoff and picked up four yards, then seven on the next carry for the first down and forced Atlanta to use all their remaining timeouts. The Saints widely settled for safe inside runs and had the prospect of having a one second difference in the game clock from the play clock. The Saints allowed the clock to wind down to :01 and on fourth down Brees took a knee as the clock expired. “They (the Saints) converted and that was it,” said Petrino.
“We are getting that swagger back,” Fujita summed up. “We have a long way to go and a tough game at San Francisco next week. That’s all we are worried about right now. But this win sure feels good.”
Notes: The biggest name among the Falcons pre-game de-activation was that of starting starting TE Alge Crumpler. The 6-2, 264 pound seventh year veteran from North Carolina ranks second on the Atlanta roster with 19 receptions thus far this season. Crumpler was listed on the Falcons’ injury report all week with both an ankle and knee injury … the attendance was 69,994 … Bush finished with 54 yards on 17 carries and five receptions for 19 yards and the score … Drew Brees was 22-of-34 for 219 yards with 2 TD passes and an interception for a passer rating of 90.2 … the Saints held the dangerous Atlanta pass rush without a sack, the second time they have accomplished the feat in the past two weeks … S Roman Harper, MLB Mark Simoneau and WLB Scott Shanle each tied for the team lead with 6 tackle each … the Saints registered 11 quarterback hurries, with Will Smith having a team-high three pressures … S Josh Bullocks and DT Brian Young had two each … DT Kendrick Clancy had his first sack as a member of the Saints.