'Clutch' Matt Bryant nails 51-yard field goal to lift Falcons past Saints, 37-34, in OT

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ATLANTA — Joplo Bartu recovered the crucial fumble. Matt Ryan threw for some impressive records.

It was Matt Bryant, however, who left the Georgia Dome with the game ball.

Bryant kicked a tying 51-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and nailed a 52-yarder in overtime to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 37-34 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

"He's a clutch kicker — real clutch," Bartu said.

The Saints (0-1) had the first possession in overtime, but it didn't last long. Falcons safety William Moore stripped New Orleans receiver Marques Colston from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Bartu at the Saints 38.

Following two runs by Steven Jackson and one incompletion by Ryan, it was time for Bryant.

No problem. Bryant said he already was imagining the game-winning field goal on extra points during the game.

"You know, whenever I kick an extra point, I'm kicking that and thinking that I have to kick a 51-yarder or 52-yarder to win the game," Bryant said. "That way, when it gets to that time to kick that 52-yarder, I've already kicked it, so to speak, in my head."

Bryant also kicked a 40-yarder to end the first half.

It was an important opening win as the Falcons (1-0) attempt to regain momentum lost by their 4-12 finish in 2013. And it was a crushing lost for the Saints, a popular choice to contend with Seattle for bragging rights in the NFC.

"Obviously that's a tough game to lose," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "I thought we played hard, yet it still wasn't good enough."

Here are some things learned from only the fourth win in Atlanta's last 17 games against New Orleans:

STRONG DEBUT FOR COOKS

Saints rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks flourished as starter Kenny Stills was held out with a quadriceps injury. Cooks showed his speed as he had seven catches for 77 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown catch. He also gained 18 yards on a run.

"I felt that the coaches and the quarterback put me in a great position to be able to do what I did," Cooks said.

RECORDS FOR RYAN

Ryan completed 31 of 43 passes for a franchise-record 448 yards, topping Chris Chandler's previous mark of 431 yards in 2001. Ryan threw three touchdown passes, giving him another Falcons record with 156 for his career, breaking the mark of 154 held by Steve Bartkowski.

"It's a great honor," Ryan said. "No one has more respect for Steve Bartkowski than I do and what he did for this organization. ... I'm very proud to be in good company."

Ryan threw no interceptions.

"I thought Matt may have played his best game as an Atlanta Falcon," Smith said.

TWO EYES

Moore said he practices the technique of making strips from behind.

"You've only got two eyes. You can't see behind you," Moore said of his play on Colston. "I'm going to continue to work on that and hopefully I can get some more throughout the season."

HESTER SHINES — ON OFFENSE

Devin Hester, who has starred as a return specialist, showed he's still got some skills as a receiver. After not catching even one pass for Chicago last season, the 31-year-old had five receptions for 99 yards. That was only two away from his career high of 101 yards with the Bears.

INJURY UPDATES

The Falcons lost rookie left tackle Jake Matthews, their first-round pick, with a left ankle injury late in the first half. Gabe Carimi took over at left tackle as Matthews stood on the sideline, holding his helmet. Smith had no update on Matthews after the game.

The Saints also held out fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring).


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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