Work in Sports
NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- The injury-riddled Atlanta Falcons found a familiar victim for their first win of the season.
Morten Andersen kicked a 44-yard field goal with 8:29 remaining as the Falcons rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to record a 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The Falcons have won the last nine meetings from New Orleans.
"It was just a good win," Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said. "I'm glad to get it, glad to get on the winning side."
Billy Joe Hobert and Eddie Kennison hooked up for a New Orleans' franchise-record 90-yard touchdown pass and Brett Bech made a leaping 23-yard grab in the end zone, helping the Saints build a 17-7 halftime lead.
Staring at a fifth straight loss, the Falcons (1-4) stepped it up after intermission, outscoring the Saints 13-0 in the second half. It marked the third straight week New Orleans (1-3) squandered a lead in the final period. Last week, the Saints allowed two touchdowns in the final two minutes and suffered a 14-10 setback to the Chicago Bears.
"I just told them I think we're a better team than we played," New Orleans coach Mike Ditka said. "I don't understand it.
Sometimes, we do things well and sometimes we don't. We talk about not making mistakes. We've been doing a pretty good job with that and we go out and make critical mistakes when the game's on the line."
After reinjuring his neck injury in the second quarter, Hobert returned in the final period but could not rally the Saints and left again after one series.
Tony Graziani's 62-yard pass to Jammi German set up Rob Christian's one-yard TD run that pulled Atlanta within 17-14 with 10:59 remaining in the third quarter. Starter Chris Chandler missed his second straight game for the Falcons with a strained right hamstring.
"I think we're maturing as a team," said Grazianai, who was 11-of-20 for 162 yards. "We're getting better and we didn't panic. We knew that if we just continued to stay in it, our defense would let us be in it at the end."
"I thought Tony did a great job hanging in there and making the plays," Reeves added. "We had one quarterback finish and that's good, so were making progress."
An interception by Pro Bowl cornerback Ray Buchanan, who was burned on Kennison's long reception, gave Atlanta a first down at the New Orleans 33 and led to Andersen's game-tying 36-yard field goal 43 seconds into the final period.
After Andersen's field goal gave the Falcons the lead, rookie running back Ricky Williams ripped off 24 yards and backup Billy Joe Tolliver converted a 4th-and-1 to give the Saints a first down at the Atlanta 41.
But the drive stalled when Tolliver fumbled on the next snap, resulting in a 10-yard loss.
"We had a running play called and Billy Joe Tolliver audibles," Ditka said. "I don't know why he audibles. We're trying to run the ball down there with Ricky Williams."
Buchanan redeemed himself by batting away Tolliver's fourth-down pass to Kennison inside the 5, giving Atlanta the ball at its 39 with two minutes remaining.
"I knew we were running out of room," Buchanan said. "We were getting close to the end zone. I was reading his eyes. I can tell when the wide receiver is about to get the ball. Their eyes begin to light up. In this situation, I had him pinned to the sideline. There was no other place I could turn to find out where the ball was."
The Saints got one more possession and advanced to the Falcons' 49 on Tolliver's 24-yard pass to Keith Poole with 13 seconds left. However, defensive back Gerald McBurrows sacked Tolliver on the next play and time expired.
The Saints have been outscored 34-0 in the fourth quarter this season.
"I'm aware of it," Hobert said. "You have to say this is embarrassing, not scoring in the fourth quarter, not putting teams away when you're ahead."
The Falcons concentrated on containing Williams, holding the Heisman Trophy winner to just 53 yards on 19 carries, but could not stop the Saints through the air in the first half.
After marching 76 yards on 11 yards on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead on Graziani's 22-yard TD pass to Terance Mathis, the Falcons managed just 32 yards for the rest of the half.
New Orleans outgained the Falcons 258-108 in total yards in the opening 30 minutes, including a 243-55 edge in passing.
The frustration mounted on the bench for Atlanta as defensive tackle Shane Dronett exchanged words with defensive line coach Bill Kollar. On Monday, Buchanan was fined $7,500 by the NFL for body-slamming Baltimore's wide receiver Patrick Johnson after giving up a touchdown in last week's loss to the Ravens.
After Doug Brien booted a 42-yard field goal to get the Saints on the board, Kennison beat Buchanan on a post pattern over the middle. He made the catch near midfield and raced ontouched to the end zone for a 10-7 lead for the Saints with 9:47 left in the half.
The previous longest reception in Saints' history was 89 yards on two previous occasions. Heath Shuler and Randal Hill combined for an 89-yard TD against Chicago on October 5, 1997 and Kerry Collins and Andre Hastings matched it against Dallas on December 6, 1998.
Tolliver, who replaced Hobert for the second straight week, engineered an nine-play, 81-yard drive in the final two minutes of the first half to extend the Saints' lead. On 3rd-and-10 from the 23, Bech made a spectacular one-handed catch to give the Saints a 10-point halftime lead.
Tolliver completed 15-of-26 for 185 yards but was picked off twice while Hobert was 9-of-14 for 153 yards.
On Atlanta's first possession of the second half, Graziani avoided a sack on 3rd-and-7, dumping off a pass to German, who jitterbugged for 62 yards down to the New Orleans 6. Two players later, Christian dove over from the 1, pulling the Falcons within a field goal.
"Things are going to go wrong in the game but you just have to stay on an even keel," Graziani said. "Hopefully, you'll be right there at the end. The defense put us in good situations and we pulled one out."