Last-Minute Heroics Help The Saints Top Atlanta, 23-17

Sep 8, 2013

The New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons at home in the Superdome Sunday afternoon, in a rollicking game that came down to the wire, as many games between these two rivals often do.

The Falcons offense, taking advantage of an invigorated but still-shaky Saints secondary, marched down the field with time expiring, but rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro tipped Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s fourth-down bullet with less than a minute to play, and Roman Harper intercepted it in the end zone.

The Superdome crowd exploded. Nearly literally — the Dome is known as one of the most hostile arenas in the league for visitors thanks to the enthusiastic crowd, and the Saints are now billing it as the “World’s Loudest Arena.”

New Orleans is now 12-3 against the Falcons in the Sean Payton era, and 11-2 with Payton as the head coach (the teams split their series last season, when Payton was suspended as a result of the bounty scandal).

“It was a hard fought win," Payton said during his postgame press conference. “Certainly there’s a lot of things we’ll have to clean up on, but they played hard.”

Payton said he knew there was a good chance the game would come down to the final possession.

Of the 88 games the Saints and the Falcons have played against one-another, 44 of them have been decided by seven points or less, and five games have gone to overtime.

The Falcons opened the day’s scoring after both teams went three-and-out, going 82 yards on six plays in just over three minutes, thanks to a 50-yard pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to Harry Douglas. Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis forced Douglas to fumble the ball out of bounds at the New Orleans 10, but two plays later Ryan hit tight end Tony Gonzalez up the middle for a seven-yard score.

Atlanta added another three points off a Matt Bryant field goal with 1:30 left in the first quarter.

The Saints finally got on the board at the 10:53 mark of the second quarter, crossing midfield with a Drew Brees pass to Jimmy Graham for a 21-yard pickup but stalling soon after. Garrett Hartley booted a 48-yard field goal to bring the score within seven.

On their first play, a 22-yard bomb from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, Atlanta turned the ball right back over to the Saints. Malcom Jenkins’ hit on Jones at the 42-yard line popped the ball out, and Roman Harper recovered the fumble, taking it from midfield to the Atlanta 31.

The turnover set up a Drew Brees rocket to Marques Colston for a 25-yard touchdown. The reception, Colston’s first of five on the day, was the 533rd of his career, putting him in sole possession of the number-one spot on the Saints’ all-time career reception list.

Game Notes:

  • The announced attendance for Sunday’s game was 72,348.
  • Roman Harper’s fumble recovery was the third of his career (though he has forced 13 fumbles). Harper’s last-minute, game-clinching interception was the seventh interception of his career.
  • Longtime Saints game announcer Jerry Romig was honored before the game with a Super Bowl 44 championship ring. He received a huge ovation from the crowd. Today’s game was the first to be announced by his son Mark (and by anyone else besides the elder Romig since the Saints started playing in the Superdome).
  • The Saints tallied 35:11 in control of the ball. They only surpassed that time of possession once last season.
  • This was the first in seven season-opening meetings with Atlanta that the Saints have won.
  • The Saints are now 17-30 in season-openers. They’ve opened the season 33 times at home in their 47-year history.