NEW ORLEANS – A charmed run by the defending champion Saints ended with a shanked field goal by the same specialist who went down in New Orleans lore with clutch kicks last season.
Garrett Hartley missed an overtime chip shot, then was left to watch the Falcons rush the field after his counterpart, Matt Bryant, drilled a 46-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the extra period to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 27-24 victory on Sunday.
The Saints appeared to have another thrilling victory in hand when Drew Brees drove New Orleans to the Atlanta 11-yard line in overtime. Instead, Hartley hooked his 29-yard kick to the left for his third miss this season.
Matt Ryan passed for 228 yards and touchdowns of 13 yards to Tony Gonzalez and 22 yards to Roddy White to give the Falcons (2-1) their second straight win. Michael Turner added 30 carries for 114 yards and a 1-yard TD plunge.
Lance Moore had a pair of TD catches for New Orleans (2-1), including a career-long 80 yarder. He finished with six catches for 149 yards and also had a 72-yard punt return to set up Jeremy Shockey's short TD catch on New Orleans' first drive.
The game was a back-and-forth affair that one would expect from longtime rivals who appear to be the best teams in the NFC South. There were bizarre blunders and big plays, including an unusual turnover by Atlanta on a Saints punt in the third quarter.
Thomas Morstead's punt hit Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud on the heel as it came down near the sideline and bounced straight up. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham grabbed it and, just before falling out of bounds, tossed it back to long-snapper Jason Kyle, who tapped toes on both feet down like a receiver just inside the sideline.
New Orleans converted the turnover into Moore's second TD on a 16-yard catch and run to put New Orleans ahead 21-17 late in the third quarter.
Fortunately for Atlanta, Ryan rarely made a mistake and routinely exhibited uncanny instincts, decisiveness and accuracy in the clutch.
On the Falcons' 80-yard scoring drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Ryan converted a third-and-10 with a pass to Gonzalez and his scoring strike to White came on third-and-6.
Brees, who was 30 of 38 for 365 yards and three TDs, drove the Saints into game-tying field goal range late in regulation, in part by converting a fourth-and-1 pass to Shockey for a 6-yard gain. Hartley made that kick, from 32 yards, with four seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Last season, Hartley sent the Saints to the franchise's first Super Bowl with an overtime game-winner in the NFC title game, made three field goals during the Super Bowl, and also clinched the Saints' Week 2 win at San Francisco last Monday night with a 37-yard, partially blocked field goal at the end of regulation.
He just couldn't come through in OT this time, and the critical miss looked similar to two less consequential misses that were hooked left in the Saints' season opening win against Minnesota.
While Brees was clutch late, he made early mistakes that came back to haunt his team, throwing an interception on a flea-flicker and another when he tried to underhand a pass, Brett Favre-style, to Graham as he was falling forward. Brent Grimes made Atlanta's first interception and DeCoud the second. Brees also sacked by John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux.
Ryan, by contrast, minimized mistakes, going 19 of 30 with no interceptions and taking only one sack by Will Smith.
Ryan was at his determined best on a 19-play, 72-yard drive that consumed 10:39 of the second quarter and tied the game at 14 shortly before halftime. Ryan converted a third-and-short with a quarterback keeper that required a second effort after he was hit behind the line of scrimmage. He converted another third down with a pass to Gonzalez along the sideline while scrambling to his right. Then he converted a pair of fourth-and-short plays with quick passes over the middle. Turner punctuated the drive with his 1-yard scoring plunge.
Gonzalez wound up being his top target with eight catches for 110 yards, while White had five catches for 69 yards.