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Falcons Lose to Saints After Smith’s Fourth-Down Gamble in OT

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith took the blame for his team’s 26-23 overtime loss to New Orleans and said he knows his decision will be second-guessed all week.

Smith decided to run the ball on a fourth-and-1 play from the Falcons’ 29-yard line in the overtime period in Atlanta yesterday rather than punt it to the Saints. Michael Turner was stopped short of a first down, the Saints took possession and four plays later got a winning field goal from John Kasay.

“It was my decision and my decision solely,” Smith said at a news conference. “At first we were going to punt the football and then had a change of heart. I wanted us to go for it. I thought the ball was inside a half yard, thought we could get it, and did not want to give the ball back to the Saints.”

Former Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy said Smith’s gamble in the matchup of the top two teams in the National Football Conference South division had been “a mistake.”

“I like that he shows confidence in your offense and your team, but you have to think, ‘What’s going to happen if I don’t make it?’” Dungy said on NBC Sports. “If you’re wrong, you lose the game. I thought Mike Smith lost the game right there.”

The Saints improved to 7-3 and snapped the Falcons’ three-game winning streak in the National Football League. Atlanta fell to 5-4 after the fourth straight game between the division rivals to be decided by three points.

Close Encounters

New Orleans won 17-14 on Dec. 27 of last season when Drew Brees threw a six-yard touchdown pass with 3:24 left. The Falcons won their Sept. 26, 2010, meeting 27-24 when Matt Bryant made a 46-yard field goal in overtime after Garrett Hartley had missed a 29-yard attempt for the Saints.

The Saints won 26-23 in the teams’ Dec. 13, 2009, game as Hartley made a 38-yard field goal with 4:42 left.

“In previous close games that we’ve played them, we’ve punted the ball and they’ve gotten the ball back with three minutes to go in the ballgame and we never saw it again,” Smith said. “That was the decision-making process that I went through. This isn’t something that you just do haphazardly.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said he thought they’d gotten a first down on a third-and-1 play on their second overtime possession when he completed a pass to fullback Mike Cox. A replay review overturned the initial ruling of a first down and made it fourth down for Atlanta.

After initially sending out the punting unit, Smith called timeout and then decided to run the ball.

“As a player, you’ve got to love the confidence that he has in the offense in that situation,” Ryan said. “That play is kind of a summary for the game. We just didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to.”

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