Falcons 34, Saints 31
Atlanta Falcons place 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 on Sunday.
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 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 it in your pocket and you get on the plane as fast as you can and you get home," Coach Jim Mora said. "And that's what we're going to do."
New Orleans (2-4), embarrassed at Green Bay a week earlier, had tied it at 31 when Aaron Brooks hit Devery Henderson in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown with under a minute left.
Then the Falcons' 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.