Saints Edge Falcons in Another Nail-Biter

Patrick Generose@PatrickGenCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2009

Drew Brees, Darren Sharper, Will Smith, Robert Meachem...

The guys who have been making plays and saving games for the Saints all year need to make a little room for Jonathan Vilma.

It took some time for the undisputed leader of the defense to make his presence felt in a big way. 

Omnipresence is more like it, actually. 

Vilma's interception and fourth down stop on the Falcons' last two possessions was a microcosm of what the Saints' defense has done all year.

Needing a big play at a time during the game when it was needed more than ever, Vilma answered the call.


The interception apparently wasn't enough for Sean Payton, who called an unsuccessful fake field goal on the ensuing drive with a 26-23 lead.

Payton's aggressiveness was rewarded, however, when the Falcons—only needing a field goal to tie—failed to convert on fourth-and-three.

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Chris Redman, in relief of an injured Matt Ryan, dumped a quick pass over the middle to Jason Snelling, replacing a banged up Michael Turner.

Vilma—having been burned on a similar play earlier in the game—adjusted his coverage and collided with Snelling two yards short of a first down.

Game over.

While giving credit where it's due, how about a round of applause for the mystery man wearing the No. 25 jersey.

All kidding aside, it's good to see Reggie Bush back on the field and making an important contribution.

With Mike Bell out of the lineup, Bush was called on to fill in and he did so admirably. 

Besides, with so much firepower on offense Peyton would be wise to make sure he's hitting on every cylinder before gearing up for the play-offs.

Which is why I can't fault him for going for the fake field goal on Sunday against the Falcons.

Initially I cringed, recalling the reverse that Payton ran in the Superdome against the Tampa Bay Bucs in December 2007.

On that play, Bush and Devery Henderson botched a handoff that Tampa Bay recovered to set up a game-winning Luke McCown touchdown pass.

Another NFC South backup quarterback, another opportunity for an inexcusable upset.

Reminding myself that the Saints are undefeated and the Falcons suck, I didn't wait long for Vilma and Payton to reward my faith.

Apparently for Payton, it came down to a matter of faith also.

In the post-game press conference, Payton said he knew his defense could bail him out if it came down to it. 

Ever the aggressor, you know Payton's going to dial up some pretty exotic plays.

But needing to and wanting to is the difference between his coaching now compared to the past two years.

Sure it's easier to take risks when you have breathing room, which the Saints have plenty of.

But Payton's aggressiveness this year is more a reflection of a defense that lends itself to the tendencies of its head coach.

Those tendencies have taken the Saints this far, so why fix it if it isn't broken?

With some injuries mounting and a Minnesota team that will challenge the Saints for seeding until the very end of the season, expect Payton to keep his foot on the gas the rest of the way.