The Atlanta Falcons, with a 3-3 record, traveled to New Orleans to take on their rivals, the Saints, on October 27, 2002. Coached by Dan Reeves, the Falcons featured flashy second-year QB Michael Vick directing the offense. RB Warrick Dunn (pictured at right), formerly of the Buccaneers, was off to a slow start but WR Brian Finneran was having a breakout year. Moreover, after getting off to a 1-3 start, the team was coming off of two wins, including a 30-0 thrashing of the Panthers the previous week.
The Saints were coached by Jim Haslett and had started off impressively at 6-1. The offense was especially productive with QB Aaron Brooks, who also happened to be Vick’s cousin, behind center. RB Deuce McAllister was an outstanding runner and the receiving corps, led by WR Joe Horn, was a good one.
There were 67,883 fans in attendance at the Louisiana Superdome. Following a punt by the Falcons, the Saints had the ball at the Atlanta 43 to begin their first series and, with Aaron Brooks running for 19 yards and Deuce McAllister picking up another 15 on two carries, they scored first on a 40-yard John Carney field goal.
Once again the Falcons were forced to punt, thanks to back-to-back sacks, and New Orleans advanced 65 yards in nine plays. McAllister started the series off with a 28-yard run to the Atlanta 37 and a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third down play kept the drive alive. McAllister finished it off with a one-yard touchdown carry and Carney added the extra point to extend the home team’s lead to 10-0.
The Falcons were helped along on their next possession by a 32-yard pass interference penalty in a second-and-14 situation and, on the first play of the second quarter, Vick ran for 27 yards to the New Orleans 24 on a second-and-25 play. Three carries by Warrick Dunn picked up 18 yards and, after another defensive penalty, Vick gained the last three yards for a TD. Jay Feely’s point after narrowed the score to 10-7.
The Saints responded with a drive that featured completions by Brooks to Joe Horn for 16 and 25 yards, but McAllister fumbled at the end of a nine-yard run and LB Sam Rogers recovered at the Atlanta 30. Vick completed a pass to TE Alge Crumpler for 33 yards and, following two runs by Dunn that picked up nine yards, converted on third-and-one with a two yard carry. Two plays later, Vick connected with WR Willie Jackson for 18 yards and on the next play Dunn ran for a three-yard touchdown. Feely converted and the visitors were ahead by 14-10.
Atlanta got the ball back when LB Chris Draft intercepted a Brooks pass at midfield and returned it nine yards, but after reaching the New Orleans 17, Dunn fumbled after making a catch and the Saints recovered at their five. The score remained unchanged at halftime.
The Saints had the ball first in the third quarter but a Brooks throw was picked off by FS Keion Carpenter to give the Falcons excellent field position at the New Orleans 31. This time they did not fail to cash in as Vick (pictured at left) threw to Brian Finneran for 28 yards and FB Bob Christian ran for an eight-yard touchdown. Feely’s point after put the visitors ahead by 11 points at 21-10.
WR Michael Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards and the Saints moved quickly to score. McAllister ran for six yards after which Brooks threw to Horn for 17 and had another 15 yards tacked on thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty. Brooks threw to McAllister for a 19-yard TD and then to TE Boo Williams for a two-point conversion and the Atlanta lead was trimmed to 21-18.
CB Allen Rossum gave the Falcons a good kickoff return of 41 yards and Vick threw four straight passes, three of them complete. The third, to Finneran, was good for 14 yards to convert a third-and-seven situation and runs by Dunn and Christian got the ball to the New Orleans 13. Feely kicked a 31-yard field goal and the visitors were up by 24-18.
Lewis responded with a 65-yard kickoff return to the Atlanta 38 and Brooks immediately threw to McAllister for a 16-yard gain. Three more running plays set up a Brooks completion to Horn for a six-yard touchdown and, with Carney adding the extra point, the Saints were on top by 25-24.
The Falcons had the ball as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Dunn had a 56-yard run to the New Orleans 18 and, while the visitors couldn’t reach the end zone, Feely booted a 32-yard field goal to re-take the lead at 27-25.
The Saints punted on their next series and Atlanta used 10 plays to drive 92 yards. Dunn started things off with an 18-yard run and Vick had a 10-yard carry on a third-and-nine play. A roughing-the-passer call moved the Falcons past midfield and Vick completed a pass to Finneran for 10 yards. It was the nimble quarterback running the final 32 yards for a touchdown and, adding Feely’s PAT, Atlanta was now ahead by 34-25 with 5:57 remaining in regulation.
New Orleans fought back with a series that nearly ended with an apparent interception that was overturned on replay review. With that reprieve, Brooks threw to WR Jake Reed for 15 yards and to McAllister for 15, but an offensive pass interference penalty blunted the drive and Carney kicked a 40-yard field goal to at least narrow the score to 34-28 with the clock now down to 3:38.
Disaster struck for the Falcons on their next play from scrimmage when Dunn fumbled when hit by FS Jay Bellamy at the end of an eight-yard run and CB Fred Thomas recovered at the Atlanta 28. Carries by McAllister and Brooks gained six yards apiece and, following an incomplete pass, McAllister ran off tackle for a 16-yard TD. Carney’s extra point again put the home team back on top by 35-34.
There was 2:12 to play as the Falcons started their next series at their own 11 after an offensive holding penalty on the kickoff return moved them back. Vick fired off passes to TE Brian Kozlowski for 11 yards, Dunn for 12, and Crumpler for five yards to reach the 39. Vick took off on an eight-yard run, threw to WR Shawn Jefferson for 14 yards, and ran for six yards to the New Orleans 33. A defensive holding penalty added four more yards but the Falcons could advance no further as a run by Dunn gained nothing and a pass was incomplete. Finally, Feely came on to kick a 47-yard field goal on the game’s last play and Atlanta won in dramatic fashion by a final score of 37-35.
The Falcons had the edge in total yards (446 to 351) and first downs (28 to 22). They gained 260 of their yards on the ground, to 159 for New Orleans. The Saints turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by Atlanta, and both clubs were heavily penalized, with the Falcons getting flagged 10 times at a cost of 95 yards and New Orleans 9 times for 96 yards. The teams combined for just three punts, two by Atlanta.
Michael Vick, who became ill on the climactic drive and had to remove himself from the game, completed 16 of 24 passes for 195 yards and, while there were no touchdowns he also gave up no interceptions. Vick also rushed for 91 yards on 10 carries and scored two TDs. Warrick Dunn gained 142 yards on 23 rushing attempts that included a touchdown and also caught five passes for 28 more yards. Alge Crumpler and Brian Finneran each gained 62 receiving yards on an identical four pass receptions.
For the Saints, Aaron Brooks was successful on 16 of 35 throws for 192 yards and two TDs while giving up two interceptions. Deuce McAllister (pictured above) ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and had five catches for 56 yards and another TD. Joe Horn also had five receptions, for a team-leading 61 yards and a score. Michael Lewis averaged 33.5 yards on six kickoff returns.
The Falcons followed up on their dramatic win by going 4-0-1 over the next five weeks, which included another victory over New Orleans at home, and while they lost three of their last four games, they finished at 9-6-1 to place second in the NFC South and secure a Wild Card playoff spot. Atlanta stunned the Packers in Green Bay in the first round before falling to the Eagles at the Divisional level. The Saints won the following week but only twice more after that as they faltered down the stretch. They ended up third in the division with a 9-7 record and out of the postseason.