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Dirty Birds fly past Saints on last-second field goal

By By Richard Dark / EMG sports writer
Oct. 28, 2002
NEW ORLEANS Leave it to the Dirty Birds to take a little of the shine off a promising first half of the season by the New Orleans Saints. The Atlanta Falcons needed a 47-yard field goal as time expired to squeak past their longtime rivals, 37-35, shocking a crowd of 67,883 at the Louisiana Superdome.
The kick capped a day in which the Saints defense had all sorts of trouble containing talented Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
The younger cousin of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks took the first battle of the family feud by accounting for just under 300 yards of offense, by scrambling away from an awestruck wave of defenders time and time again.
The story of the game, however, could have just as easily been the turnovers by Atlanta. With 3:23 to go, Baton Rouge native Warrick Dunn coughed up the football at his own 28, and Bruce native Fred Thomas dug the ball out from under a massive pile. The huge momentum swing set up the go-ahead touchdown run by Deuce McAllister, who electrified the crowd with a gritty 16-yard scoring scamper at the 2:20 mark to give the Saints (6-2) a slim one-point lead, the second by the hosts in a span of just under 15 minutes.
But what everyone did expect from this grudge match was plenty of scoring and unfortunately for Saints fans that's exactly what they got. And Vick, with all of his fancy moves, erased that bit of Mississippi magic after getting the ball back. On this day, yellow laundry flew everywhere you looked. Both teams combined for nearly 200 yards in penalties on 19 flags. The Falcons final drive was aided by a defensive holding call with 25 ticks left that allowed them to convert a crucial third down and turn what would have been a 51-yard attempt into the game-winning play.
Haslett refused to comment on any officiating issues. The Falcons (4-3) snapped a Saints four-game streak and extended their own to four.
Kicker John Carney nailed the last of his two field goals a 40-yarder on third and 20 to pull the Saints to within six with just under four minutes left in the see-saw final frame.
Turnovers were key in that, as well. The Falcons converted the trio of gifts into 14 points, a number the Saints simply weren't able to overcome.
The first came when McAllister fumbled at the opposing 40 with less than 10 minutes to go in the first half, paving the way for the Falcons to go into the locker room at the break leading 14-10. Dunn, who also tore up the Black and Gold defense with 142 yards on the ground and 28 catching, busted in to provide that margin.
The third quarter saw the Falcons gain a stranglehold on the contest after Brooks lofted his second pick of the day. Atlanta needed just three plays to convert the 31 yards needed to take a 21-10 lead with 12 minutes to go in the quarter. Fullback Bob Christian did the honors this time, from 8 yards out.
But Brooks atoned for that mistake by engineering a quick score which was aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on a 17-yard grab by Joe Horn. McAllister finished the drive by pulling in a dramatic 19-yard scoring pass. The quarterback turned in a nondescript 16-of-35 effort for 192 yards for a rating of 58.3.
The scoreboard flip-flopping continued when Falcons kicker Jay Feely booted a 30-yarder to give Atlanta back the lead by two with 14:36 left. But Horn was able to do his own version of the "Dirty Bird" after grabbing a 6-yard TD pass from Brooks late in the third.
The Falcons then proceeded to send Saints skeptics to the exits in the ensuing minutes by throwing up 10 points on a pair of 32-yard scores by the legs of both Feely and Vick. The latter seemed to suck all the air out of the room with 5:57 to go, that is except for the euphoric reaction coming from the large contingent of Falcons fans in the upper terrace area.
But once again, Atlanta proved where the history of these two teams is concerned, that no matter the circumstances; they were just good enough to rain on the Saints parade.