NEW ORLEANS -- It should have been a routine chip shot for Saints playoff hero Garrett Hartley, a 29-yard field goal in overtime to keep New Orleans unbeaten.
Somehow, the same kicker who set a Super Bowl record with three field goals longer than 40 yards hooked it wide left from the right hash mark. Minutes later, the defending champions' charmed run ended -- and Falcons players stormed the Superdome field in celebration -- when Matt Bryant drilled a 46-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the extra period to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 27-24 victory.
"I missed basically an extra point," Hartley said.
"It was clearly my mistake. ... It's the highs and lows of being a kicker."
Atlanta would have won in regulation if not for Hartley's tying 32-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in regulation.
The Falcons won the coin toss and received to start OT, but the Saints held, setting the stage for Drew Brees to lead New Orleans to another dramatic win.
Brees drove the Saints to the Atlanta 11-yard line. Resigned to defeat as he watched from the sideline, Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez took off his receivers' gloves. Then Hartley hooked an ugly kick to the left for his third miss this season.
"I was absolutely stunned," Gonzalez said. "I thought for sure the game was over."
Hartley's hook was eerily reminiscent of a miss on a potential gamewinner against Tampa Bay last season.
"I missed a big kick last year and was able to learn from it," Hartley said. "I plan on doing the same thing."
The game was a back-and-forth thriller that one would expect from longtime rivals who appear to be the best teams in the NFC South. There were four lead changes amid bizarre blunders and big plays.
Matt Ryan passed for 228 yards and touchdowns of 13 yards to Gonzalez and 22 yards to Roddy White to give the Falcons (2-1) their second straight win. Michael Turner added 30 carries for 114 yards and a 1-yard TD plunge.
Gonzalez was Ryan's top target with eight catches for 110 yards, while White had five catches for 69 yards.
"This is a huge victory for us," Ryan said. "We have a lot of high expectations of ourselves and we fought the entire game to get us in position to win."
NO-Shockey 2 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), 11:42.
Atl-Gonzalez 13 pass from Ryan (Bryant kick), 6:53.
NO-Moore 80 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), 3:31
Atl-Turner 1 run (Bryant kick), 1:03.
Atl-FG Bryant 23, 3:43.
NO-Moore 16 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), :04.
Atl-White 22 pass from Ryan (Bryant kick), 9:20.
NO-FG Hartley 32, :04.
Atl-FG Bryant 46, 1:55.
RUSHING-Atlanta, Turner 30-114, Snelling 14-62, Ryan 6-26. NO, P.Thomas 9-30, Ivory 7-13.
PASSING-Atlanta, Ryan 19-30-0-228. New Orleans, Brees 30-38-2-365.
RECEIVING-Atlanta, Gonzalez 8-110, White 5-69, Mughelli 2-29, Turner 2-11, Snelling 1-8, Douglas 1-1. NO, Shockey 8-78, Moore 6-149, P.Thomas 6-61, Colston 4-25, D.Thomas 3-24, Henderson 2-23, Meachem 1-5.
MISSED FG-NO, Hartley 29 (WL).
Lance Moore had a pair of TD catches for New Orleans (2-1), including a career-long 80-yarder. He finished with six catches for 149 yards and also had a career-long 72-yard punt return to set up Jeremy Shockey's short TD catch on New Orleans' first drive.
The most unusual play occurred when Thomas Morstead's punt hit Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud on the heel as it came down near the sideline and bounced straight up. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham grabbed it and, just before falling out of bounds, tossed it back to long-snapper Jason Kyle, who tapped toes on both feet down like a receiver just inside the sideline.
New Orleans converted the turnover into Moore's second TD, a 16-yard catch and run for a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter.
Atlanta responded with an 80-yard drive to regain the lead in the fourth quarter, with Ryan converting a third-and-10 with a pass to Gonzalez and another third down with his scoring strike to White.
Brees, who was 30 of 38 for 365 yards and three TDs, drove the Saints into game-tying field goal range at the end of the fourth quarter, in part by converting a fourth-and-1 pass to Shockey for a 6-yard gain.
Last season, Hartley sent the Saints to the franchise's first Super Bowl with an overtime game-winner in the NFC title game and made three field goals during the Super Bowl. He also clinched the Saints' Week 2 win at San Francisco last Monday night with a 37-yard, partially blocked field goal at the end of regulation.
He just couldn't come through in OT this time, but his teammates tried to deflect the blame elsewhere. Brees cited his two first-half interceptions. Brent Grimes picked off the first on a long, inaccurate pass. DeCoud got the second when Brees tried an ill-advised, Brett Favre-style underhanded flip as he fell forward.
Brees also was sacked by John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux, and rookie Chris Ivory fumbled on a fourth-and-1 play at the Atlanta 32.
"It's not just about missing the field goal at the end," Brees said. "There were a lot of things prior to that."
Ryan minimized mistakes, going 19 of 30 with no interceptions and taking only one sack by Will Smith.
The third-year quarterback showcased his determination and accuracy on a 19-play, 72-yard drive that consumed 10:39 of the second quarter and tied the game on Turner's TD at 14 shortly before halftime. Ryan converted a third-and-short with a quarterback keeper that required a second effort. He converted another third down with a pass to Gonzalez along the sideline while scrambling right. Then he converted two fourth-and-short plays with quick passes over the middle.
"I am so proud of how we converted (nine) third downs," Ryan said. "That was a huge factor throughout the game."