Jim Henderson / Eyewitness Sports Director
NEW ORLEANS -- The post game laments of Falcon fans Sunday were those of Saints fans in the ‘Bad Ole Days’ – “We abandoned the run too quickly, we got out-coached, we just can’t beat those guy.”
The Falcons were ‘those guys’ for the Saints all too often in a rivalry the Falcons dominated for long stretches of time. In the late 70s and early 80s Atlanta won nine of 10. In the late 90s, the Falcons won 10 of 10.
But now, under Payton/Brees, the pendulum has swung decisively the other way, defying the odds as odds were defied – and thankfully for the Saints – reinforced in Sunday’s win.
In winning for the ninth time in 11 games against the Falcons in the Payton/Brees era, the Saints rushed the football for just 41 yards and a 2.6 yard-per-carry average. And yet, with virtually no running threat, Brees was completing 17 of 19 off play action for 212 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 89 percent against a Falcons defense that was allowing just a 56 percent completion rate against play action.
As the Saints were losing the coin flip to begin overtime, the 11th time in 11 flips this season the opposition has won it, the Falcons’ chances of winning increased. Fifty-nine percent of the coin flip winners in overtime win the game.
But, after a three-and-out for both offenses and an exchange of punts, Falcon coach Mike Smith made his second bold – and some would say foolhardy – decision.
A failed onsides kick with over four minutes to play in regulation and trailing by three had been the first. A penalty on Jimmy Graham that negated a Kasay field goal bailed Smith out in regulation.
He would not be so fortunate in overtime with the temerity to go for it on fourth and inches at the Falcon 29.
It’ll go down in the annals of this fierce rivalry as “fourth and dumb.” To convert would have marginally increased the Falcons’ chances of winning. To fail to convert would mean almost certain defeat.
A statistical analysis shows that the Falcons’ chances of winning the game in overtime after giving the Saints the ball there were just 18 percent.
One stop and three plays later, John Kasay was putting the game-winner from 26 yards away “right down Peachtree.” In the Falcons’ path to the playoffs, Mike Smith had dug himself a pretty substantial pot hole.
Something the folk in New Orleans are far more used to encountering and navigating in the NFL than our friends in the ATL.