The New Orleans Saints didn't have the start they envisioned for the second half on defense, offense or special teams in Sunday’s 43-37, overtime victory over the Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Defensively, New Orleans couldn't keep the Falcons out of the end zone on the first possession of the third quarter. Atlanta's six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive greatly was assisted by Ken Crawley's 45-yard pass interference penalty and gave the Falcons a 21-16 lead.
Offensively, the Saints didn't have an immediate response. New Orleans' three-and-out series was one of just three such possessions in the game by the Saints.
And then, on special teams after the three-and-out, the punt team committed two penalties on Thomas Morstead's 49-yard punt. Justin Hardee's face mask was accepted, and Zach Wood's holding was declined.
But all three units quickly redeemed themselves, and in a big way, when opportunity next was presented – perhaps no more so than special teams.
When the Saints defense stiffened to force a three-and-out from the Falcons on their next offensive possession, Matt Bosher and Atlanta lined up to punt on fourth-and-13 from the Atlanta 44-yard line.
On Bosher's punt attempt, Saints defensive end Alex Okafor simply beat his would-be blocker on the left side – Okafor dipped his right shoulder around and then it simply was a matter of speed – and he managed to get his left hand on the punt attempt. Linebacker Craig Robertson collected the block at the Falcons' 28 and returned it 12 yards, to the 16.
Four plays later, and even after a false start penalty on first-and-goal from the 6, Drew Brees stepped up in the pocket to avoid the pressure and fired a touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith, who muscled through a couple of defenders the last two yards to score his first touchdown as a Saint on his first reception as a Saint.
New Orleans took a 23-21 lead, and the shootout was on. But at a time when the Saints had enough of a dip for momentum to shift, Okafor's block and the offensive score handed it right back to the Saints.