Instead, another NFL coach got the glory for his "gutsy" return to the field of action.
Forty-two-year-old John Kasay kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime after Atlanta coach Mike Smith went for it on fourth down deep in his own territory that backfired and gave the Saints a 26-23 victory and control of the NFC South on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
"It took some steel and you-know-what to make that call," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "That one play was the game."
"I'm taking full responsibility for making that call," said the Falcons coach.
The Saints (7-3) increased their division lead to 1 1/2 games over the Falcons (5-4). The teams will meet again on Monday Night Football on Dec. 26 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The past four games in the series have been decided by a field goal. The past six have decided by a touchdown or less.
Brees escaped the Georgia Dome with a clean uniform as the Falcons failed for most of the afternoon to pressure Brees. He had plenty of time to find his open receivers and completed 30-of-43 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 106.9 quarterback rating.
The Falcons didn't sack Brees and got just two hits on him.
Saints coach Sean Payton made an early return to the sideline on crutches. He suffered a broken tibia and severe knee injury in a collision with tight end Jimmy Graham nearly a month ago. He wasn't scheduled to return to the sideline until the Giants game on Nov. 28.
"I felt like this was an important game and that my presence is important," said Payton. "I talked to doctors this morning."
You can bet the coach had his leg in ice on the flight back to New Orleans after standing on it for a long time.
"It was great having him on the sideline," Brees said in a media briefing after the game. "He couldn't wait to get back down there from the coaches box. He has his hands in everything we do."
Smith made a big gamble in overtime. He went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 29 and running back Michael Turner was stuffed by Shaun Rogers and Will Smith for a loss.
Brees' scoring strikes were on a 21-yard pass to a wide open Graham in the second quarter and a 33-yard throw to wide receiver Robert Meachem in the third quarter.
Pierre Thomas led the Saints in rushing with 29 yards on six carries. The Saints rushed for just 41 yards on 16 carries, usually not enough to allow the Saints to win.
Wide receiver Margues Colston has returned from a fractured collarbone and had a strong performance with a team best of eight catches for 113 yards.
Graham posted seven catches for 82 yards to go with his touchdown. He had two drops early in the game.
In regulation with the Saints leading 23-20 after the Falcons' touchdown, Atlanta tried an onside kick, but it didn't work.
The Saints moved into position to give Kasay a 45-yard field goal try. His kick was good, but Graham was guilty of holding on the play and the Saints had to back up the Falcons with a punt.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw a whopping 52 passes, completing 29 for 351 yards and two touchdowns.
Brees extended his NFL record with a 30th straight game completing at least 20 passes.
Safety Roman Harper had a big game with 13 tackles (10 solo), a sack (eight-yard loss) and a pass deflection. Linebacker Scott Shanle had 9 tackles (seven solo) and an interception.
The Saints will enjoy a bye week and then return to action when they host the Giants on Nov. 28.
by Ed Staton and Bayoubuzz Staff
Ed Staton and Bayoubuzz Staff