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(Sunday, November 13th)
Final Score: New Orleans 26, Atlanta 23 (OT)
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Head coaches are paid to make the big decisions in big games, and the one that Mike Smith made on Sunday cost Atlanta dearly.
Facing 4th-and-inches at the Atlanta 30 in overtime, Smith opted to go for the first down, but the Falcons offensive line got no push and Michael Turner was stuffed, giving New Orleans the ball already in long field goal range.
"I take full responsibility, it was my decision and my decision solely," said Smith. "First we were going to punt the football, but it was only half a yard and I didn't want to give the ball back to the Saints. It's not something you do haphazardly, we felt like it was the best play for us to run and unfortunately it didn't work out for us."
After reaching the Atlanta eight-yard line, John Kasay connected from 26 yards away to give New Orleans a 26-23 victory over its division rival in a battle for first place in the NFC South.
Drew Brees passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns on 30-of-43 attempts with Marques Colston catching eight balls for 113 yards for the Saints (7-3), who have won their past two games.
"We know we're a good football team and we play our hardest all the time," said Brees. "That fourth quarter was a real tough game, with both teams trading punches and battling for a win, that's what football is all about right there."
With the win, New Orleans heads into its bye week with two more victories than Atlanta (5-4), which had a three-game winning streak stopped.
"It's obviously a significant win," said New Orleans head coach Sean Payton. "We didn't give up, even though the second half wasn't perfect. We did a lot of things that could have prevented us from winning the game, but we made the plays when we needed to."
Matt Ryan went 29-for-52 with 351 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Falcons, who will get another crack at New Orleans on December 26. Turner finished the game with 22 carries for 96 yards while Harry Douglas had eight catches for 133 yards.
"It was a tough, physical football game and it took longer than 60 minutes today," said Ryan. "I thought we fought hard on both sides of the ball and made plays, but we aren't happy with the outcome."
Trailing by 10 points after a Kasay field goal with 7:13 to play, Atlanta marched the ball 81 yards in nine plays with the capper coming on a 20-yard catch over the middle by Tony Gonzalez to make it a 23-20 game with 4:13 to play.
New Orleans was poised to take a six-point lead and Kasay booted a 45-yard attempt through the uprights, but a holding call nullified the score and a 31- yard punt saw the Falcons take over at their own six-yard line.
Douglas immediately had consecutive 23-yard catches and, after an incompletion, caught a 20-yard ball. The Falcons got the ball down to the nine for a 1st-and-goal and took a couple of stabs at the end zone, but weren't able to connect and Matt Bryant's 27-yard field goal sent the game to overtime.
The Falcons started the game with the ball and held it for close to nine minutes, but were only able to come away with three points as the 16-play drive stalled at the 19 and Bryant booted a 36-yard field goal.
New Orleans responded with a field goal of its own on a 52-yard boot from Kasay with 2:48 left in the first.
Following an exchange of punts, the Falcons quickly crossed midfield on a 17- yard catch from Roddy White. A 13-yard run from Jacquizz Rodgers got them into the red zone, but the drive stalled and Bryant kicked a 29-yard field goal for a 6-3 lead.
In the second quarter, New Orleans took over at midfield and the first play saw Brees and Jimmy Graham hook up on a 29-yard play. After an incompletion, Brees and Graham got together on a 21-yard score to give New Orleans a 10-6 lead.
Bryant lined up for a 41-yard field goal on the last play of the half, but it missed to the left.
After Kasay missed a 40-yard field goal just to the left on New Orleans' opening possession of the second half, Atlanta marched 70 yards in 10 plays with Jason Snelling finishing the drive with a 21-yard score for a 13-10 lead with 5:08 left in the third.
The Saints, though, answered with a seven-play drive that covered 82 yards and Robert Meachem finished the march with a 33-yard score, giving New Orleans a 17-13 advantage heading to the fourth.
Ryan was picked off on the first play of the fourth quarter and New Orleans turned that into a 48-yard field goal from Kasay with under 12 minutes to play.
Following a punt from Atlanta, the Saints moved the ball 62 yards over eight plays and Kasay's 44-yard field goal gave the team a 23-13 margin with 7:13 to play.
After the bye, the Saints will host the New York Giants for a Monday night game...The Saints have won five of the last six games against Atlanta...Atlanta hosts Tennessee next Sunday...Gonzalez finished the game with six catches for 71 yards...Atlanta totaled 481 yards and controlled the ball for 36:32 while New Orleans had 363 yards and held the ball for 30:03.
11/13 19:35:08 ET