Second chance gives Falcons a 34-31 win

SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 16, 2005) -- Atlanta Falcons kicker Todd Peterson's attempt sailed wide left, the "home" crowd erupted and one of the New Orleans Saints ' best games of the season was headed to overtime.

Except for one problem: that yellow flag on the ground.

New Orleans was penalized for defensive holding on the missed kick, Peterson was moved five yards closer and, given another chance, booted the 36-yard field goal down the middle to send the Falcons to a wild 34-31 win.

While Falcons players danced around the field to celebrate their good fortune, Saints players started ripping off their helmets in anger as fans at the Alamodome threw paper out of the upper decks in disgust.

They had their reasons: Peterson had missed his first try in the final seconds and the Saints appeared to have survived. But defensive end Tony Bryant was flagged for holding because he grabbed a Falcons player to allow a teammate to try to block the kick.

The infraction had nothing to do with Peterson's missing the 41-yarder, but Atlanta was allowed to line up for another try nonetheless.

Peterson nailed it, leaving Saints coach Jim Haslett steaming and cursing after the loss.

"I'm telling you it was a flat-out (expletive) call," Haslett said in a remark that is likely to draw a fine from the NFL. He said the Saints ran the same play Atlanta had used a week earlier.

"They didn't call it last week. We were pulling the guy to the outside and you're allowed to pull as long as you're moving forward," he said.

"The guy fell on top of me," Bryant said. "If anything, he should have been called for holding. I was trying to make a play."

Referee Bill Carollo stood behind the call.

"It's considered a pull-and-shoot," Carollo said. "By definition of defensive holding on a field goal kick, two things have to happen. First, he has to have defensive holding and the second player has to shoot into the hole. That's what we called."

A simple, but unsatisfactory, explanation for the Saints (2-4). Meanwhile, the Falcons (4-2) were happy to get out of San Antonio with a key win over an NFC South division rival.

"You put in your pocket and you get on the plane as fast as you can and you get home," said coach Jim Mora. "And that's what we're going to do."

It was the third time this week a prominent game ended in a bizarre, flip-flop fashion: The others being Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Series and Notre Dame's last-second loss to USC.

New Orleans (2-4), embarrassed at Green Bay 52-3 a week earlier, had tied it at 31-31 when Aaron Brooks hit Devery Henderson in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard TD with under a minute left.

Then the Falcon's Michael Vick, bottled up most of the afternoon in his first game back from a sprained knee, completed four passes and ran for a first down that quickly moved the ball down the field.

Vick called it the "the biggest drive we've had all year. It was the moment of truth."

Then the Saints -- and the officials -- practically handed it to Peterson to win not once, but twice.

First, the Saints were flagged for having too many players on the field. The extra five yards inched Peterson up from what would have been a 46-yard attempt.

Then, as his kick with six seconds left sailed wide left, the other flag dropped, this time calling Bryant for the hold. So Peterson stepped up again and drilled the mulligan as time expired.

"It's what I get paid to do," Peterson said. "What separates the players that stay in this business is the mental game ... From a mental standpoint, my job is to respond to adversity."

And while enduring a season on the road after being forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints -- who complained loudly after being made to play their first "home" game at New York against the Giants -- had found a way to drop another one.

The Falcons scored two long defensive touchdowns and a fourth-quarter interception set up Warrick Dunn 's 21-yard touchdown that made it 31-24 with less than five minutes to play.

The Saints' mistakes started in the first half.

Leading 10-3 after a Vick interception led to a Saints field goal, New Orleans was driving again when Antowain Smith coughed up a fumble that Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall scooped up and raced 66 yards for a touchdown.

"We don't feel lucky," said Demorrio Williams, who returned a blocked field goal attempt 59 yards for a touchdown in the first half. "That's football. We capitalized on their mistakes."

Brooks finished with 259 yards passing and two touchdowns and Smith, starting in place of the injured Deuce McAllister, rushed for 88 yards and two TDs.

Notes: Smith's two rushing touchdowns were his first since 2001 when he was with New England .... the Saints' second game in San Antonio drew a sellout crowd of 65,562 .... The Saints rushed for 211 yards. ... The Saints have 18 turnovers in their four losses.

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