Falcons gamble and lose

New Orleans Saints tight end David Thomas (85) makes the catch as Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas (54) tackles him during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
New Orleans Saints tight end David Thomas (85) makes the catch as Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas (54) tackles him during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (John Bazemore)
Posted: November 14, 2011

ATLANTA - A disconsolate Mike Smith watched the chip-shot field goal sail through the uprights, then walked slowly across the field, his head down, to shake hands with the other coach.

Smith knew this loss was on him.

John Kasay kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime after the Atlanta coach decided to go for it on fourth down deep in his own territory yesterday, a decision that backfired horribly and handed the New Orleans Saints a 26-23 victory over the Falcons.

"I know it will be scrutinized all week long," Smith said. "I want everybody to understand I take full responsibility."

New Orleans (7-3) 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 and ill-fated call, especially if this loss comes back to cost the defending division champion Falcons a return to the playoffs.

Atlanta (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, Smith decided to go for it on fourth down from his own 29.

Michael Turner was stuffed.

Game over.

"We were going to be aggressive in all that we did," Smith said. "Unfortunately, it did not work out."

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.

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.

Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake.

Ryan handed off to Turner, but the bruising runner never had a chance. He was swarmed by a pile of defenders and actually lost a couple of feet. Four plays later, Kasay won it with his fourth field goal of the game.

"I just saw a guy in my face as soon as I got the ball," Turner said. "I would like to have it back. I would love to be in that situation again."

New Orleans coach Sean Payton coached the game on crutches in his return to the sideline after a collision with one of his players left him with a broken left leg and severe knee injuries nearly a month ago.

"I just felt like this was an important game," Payton said. "That presence is important. I talked to the doctors this morning."

Drew Brees went 30-for-43 for 322 yards, including a pair of touchdowns.

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