Saints Survive Scare From Da Dirty Bird, Beat Atlanta Falcons To Remain Perfect

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Saints Survive Scare From Da Dirty Bird, Beat Atlanta Falcons To Remain Perfect
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints won a nail-biter on the road for the second straight week as they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 26-23 to clinch a first-round bye.

This time it was the Saints, and not their opponent, blowing a double-digit lead.

New Orleans led 23-9 with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter when the Falcons came flying back to tie the game.

Quarterback Chris Redman and receiver Michael Jenkins took advantage of a Saints blitz to score on a 50-yard touchdown. The Falcons then marched 79 yards on their next possession and scored on a 4-yard run by Jason Snelling.

Then, with the score tied and Atlanta with good field position, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey called a play that reminded me of Sean Payton circa 2007.

On first down, Atlanta ran the Wildcat with return man Eric Weems and they proceeded to lose 12 yards. Feeling the pressure to make a play on second down, Redman forced a throw to Roddy White and was intercepted by linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

The Saints kicked a field goal to go up 26-23, and Vilma made one more spectacular defensive play to end the game. On 4th-and-2, Vilma blasted Snelling one yard short of the first down marker.

Player of the Game

Reggie Bush scored two touchdowns and had 79 yards from scrimmage. He had a 21-yard reception and a 19-yard run. Bush also had his best punt return of the season darting 23 yards up the left sideline.

The Good

New Orleans was 8-of-12 on third down conversions. The most impressive was the 21-yard touchdown reception to Bush on 3rd-and-19.

Brees continues to spread the ball around as well as anyone in the NFL. Five different receivers caught at least four passes for 46 or more yards.

The Saints held the ball for 36:44 compared to just 23:16 for the Falcons.

The Bad

Redman, who is a career backup, passed for 303 yards. This is the second straight week the Saints have allowed 300 yards passing by an unheralded quarterback.

Give credit to Redman, though. He took what the Saints gave him and that was a lot of underneath passes. He was obviously well-prepared for this game. He did his best Brees impression by completing passes to eight different teammates.

Darren Sharper is starting to show his age lately. He had seven interceptions and three touchdowns in the team's first seven games and just one interception in the team's last six games. He was burned quite badly in one-on-one coverage when Jenkins scored.

I'm starting to wonder if Sharper is going to have enough left in the tank for the remainder of the season. Fortunately, he will be able to rest in a few weeks when the Saints get their playoff bye.

The Ugly

The Saints missed their third extra point of the season. This time it was Garrett Hartley and this one could have cost the Saints the game.

Every time New Orleans misses a short kick, I am reminded of Gary Anderson and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

For those of you who don't remember, the Vikings were 15-1 and had a heck of offense led by Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, and Cris Carter.

Up seven points with 2:07 left in the NFC championship game, the Vikings had a chance to go up 10 if Gary Anderson could connect on 38-yard field goal. Anderson, who hadn't missed a kick all season, was wide by about a foot on the attempt.

Atlanta then responded by scoring the game-tying touchdown and then the game-winning field goal in overtime.

The Vikings, whose only regular season loss was by three points on the road and had a record-setting offense, fell short of the Super Bowl in part because their kicking game let them down.

Let's hope for the Saints that history does not repeat itself, unless, of course, it's the Vikings repeating it.

A Look Ahead

If the Saints can beat the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night and the Vikings lose to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, New Orleans will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Marques Colston needs 92 yards to reach 1,000 for the third time in four seasons. Brees is 168 yards away from his fourth straight 4,000 yard season.

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