The decision made sense to Mike Smith at the time.
They have a battering ram of a running back in Michael Turner and the Saints have one of the most prolific passers in the league. Punt the ball away and you give Drew Brees a chance to march down the field to set up a game-winning field goal. Get the first down and you‘re on your way to a game-winning kick of your own.
That had to be Smith’s thought process when he elected to go for it from Atlanta’s own 29-yard-line.
Of course Saints defensive wizard Gregg Williams called the perfect counter play, his linemen got penetration, Turner never got out of the backfield and that was the ballgame. Saints 26, Falcons 23.
“We were going to be aggressive in all that we did,” Smith said after the game. “Unfortunately, it did not work out.”
If the Falcons had been more aggressive on third-and-1, they might not have needed to gamble on fourth down. But Matt Ryan’s short pass to Mike Cox in the flat failed to get the Falcons across the 30-yard-line when Cox lost control of the ball trying to stretch for the marker.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Falcons (5-4) and moved them back to two games behind the Saints (7-3) in the NFC South.
The play of wide receiver Harry Douglas was a bright spot for the Falcons, who rallied from 10 points down late thanks to several big plays from Ryan to Douglas (8 rec., 133 yards). But Douglas was only in the game because top target Julio Jones could not play through his ailing hamstring.