Atlanta was driving and deep in New Orleans territory in an attempt to find more fourth-quarter magic. Ryan had engineered three such comebacks already this season. His 19 fourth-quarter or overtime come-from-behind victories since 2008 are the most in the NFL.
A nine-yard pass from Ryan to Harry Douglas on first down not only moved the Falcons to the Saints' 1-yard line, but it brought on the two-minute warning. Atlanta had three plays to gain just one yard—two feet in actuality, since the ball was inside the 1.
But for the second time in the game, the Saints bowed up and kept this mighty offense out of the end zone. New Orleans is becoming very adept at goal-line stands.
Here’s how the Saints stopped the Falcons and held on to beat their then-undefeated divisional foes.
2nd-and-Goal, 1-Yard Line, 2:00
Atlanta lined up in its 32 Personnel with two running backs and a tight end in the backfield and a tight end and eligible offensive lineman on the line.
New Orleans had six defensive linemen down in a stance and four defensive backs within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Mike Johnson, the eligible tackle, gave a quick block and released out wide to give Ryan a passing option. Michael Palmer and Mike Cox were used for straight-up pass-blocking. Michael Turner was used as a play-action decoy and then went to block.
Ryan’s intended target was tight end Tony Gonzalez, who ran a drag route across the back of the end zone.
Cameron Jordan was the only defensive lineman to break through toward Ryan. That’s because he was only chipped by Johnson before Johnson went out on his route.
Jordan didn’t get to Ryan, but he forced a throw to a pretty wide-open Gonzalez in the back of the end zone.
Malcolm Jenkins, who had been trailing Gonzalez the whole time, lost a step as they crossed the end zone. When Ryan threw the ball, Jenkins accelerated to make an incredibly athletic and heady play, breaking up the pass just in time.
3rd-and-Goal, 1-Yard Line, 1:56
The Falcons came out with the same personnel and formation for their third-down play. The Saints did as well.
This time, Ryan handed the ball off to Turner, who ran left, but the play was doomed from the beginning.
Before Ryan even handed the ball off, the Saints had won the physical battle by pushing the Falcons back off the line of scrimmage.
Will Smith made an amazing push into the backfield. Even though he was blocked to the ground, he was able to wrap up Turner’s legs and get a lot of help from a host of New Orleans defenders.
Turner actually lost a yard on the play, a result of the Saints being a stronger unit on the line and pushing their way into Atlanta’s backfield. This had been a common occurrence all afternoon, but it was a huge benefit on this goal-line stand.
4th-and-Goal, 2-Yard Line, 1:42
After a timeout, Atlanta changed things up and lined up in their 12 Personnel with Jason Snelling in the backfield, along with two tight ends with two receivers.
The Saints had four defensive linemen and a linebacker in the middle, along with five defensive backs spread out wide left in coverage.
Jabari Greer was out wide covering Roddy White, who ran a post pattern. White pushed Greer deeper than he wanted to be and seemed open for a split second—which is when Ryan threw the ball. But Greer recovered quickly after almost slipping and took a fantastic angle to cut off the pass to White.
The pass rush played a small role in the success of this play, as well. Both Jordan and Smith got back to Ryan and forced a throw before contact. Ryan got off a clean throw, but the pass rush kept him from seeing a wide-open Gonzalez in the flat. Had Jordan and Smith not been in the backfield, Ryan may have hit his tight end for the go-ahead score.