ATLANTA –Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said when the Falcons got the ball back trailing by three points with 2:17 left in regulation he had the feeling they would score.
He thought back to the end of the first half when the Falcons went 72 yards for a field goal in just 51 seconds.
"We can get this thing to overtime," Gonzalez said of his thought process. "I was thinking touchdown all the way. You have to give them credit. They came up with the play when they had to."
In spite of Gonzalez's belief, the Falcons' offense did not make several big plays when it needed them most. But it was a sign of how well the offense performed coming off its worst showing of the year that Gonzalez had the confidence the Falcons could go the 85 yards for the score.
In the 26-23 loss to New Orleans (13-0), the Falcons outgained the NFL's top offense 392 yards to 391, but struggled in the red zone, especially in the first half when the Falcons settled for three field goals and trailed by 16-9 at the break.
"There were three scores by both teams in the first half; we kicked field goals, they scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal," Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith said. "That was really a big point in the ballgame. That's a very potent offense. When you're playing an offense like that you feel pretty good when you hold them to a field goal because they're operating very, very efficiently right now."
Among the biggest factors in the turnaround from last week's 34-7 loss to Philadelphia, in which the Falcons were held to 196 yards for the game's first 54 minutes, was the play of quarterback Chris Redman.
Redman, who started his second straight game because of Matt Ryan's injured toe, completed 23 of 34 attempts for 303 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a rating of 93.1. Last week Redman threw two interceptions and posted a rating of 56.5.
Gonzalez said the offense, including Redman, felt more comfortable this week.
Redman "just calmed down," Gonzalez said. "He got used to it. Part of this game -- not even part -- the majority of this game is confidence. Once you get that, you get comfortable out there, you get confident. 'OK, I belong on this team and I can make big plays' and he was doing it. He was rolling and that was good for us."
Said Redman: "We were a little bit more honed in on the game plan, but ultimately it fell a little short."
As much as the Falcons were rolling, the Saints came up with three big plays in the game's final minutes. When the Falcons took over at their own 36 down by three with less than five minutes left in the game, Eric Weems was caught for a 12-yard loss on an end around out of the Wildcat formation.
Jerious Norwood, who took the snap, and Weems said they both saw the blitz coming on the right side from Saints' defensive back Randall Gay, but they had no check out of the play.
"They called the right blitz at the right time," said Weems, who had taken an end around for 31 yards earlier in the game. "The corner came up. We don't have a check in for that, so, that's kudos to them. They made the right call."
Weems said the high-risk defense of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used that blitz several times during the game. He was hoping Gay would fall for the fake, but he didn't.
"He stayed home and played his assignment, so he made a great play," Weems said.
On the next play, Redman was pressured and his throw to Roddy White fell short and right into the hands of Saints' linebacker Jonathan Vilma with 3:55 left.
"He just kind of dropped back," Redman said of Vilma. "I had to move a little bit and so I didn't get enough on the ball and get it in the right spot. But he just made a good zone play and you've got to give him credit."
After taking possession, the Saints attempted a fake field goal, which failed. The Falcons had the ball at their 15 and that was when Gonzalez thought the game was theirs to win.
For a while, it looked as if he was going to be right.
The Falcons drove to the Saints' 46 -- about 10 yards away from field goal range -- and faced fourth-and-2 with 1:18 left.
The Falcons attempted a short pass to running back Jason Snelling that had been successful several times during the game. On the game's third play from scrimmage, Snelling took the play 38 yards.
But Vilma -- who proved to be their nemesis on this day -- sniffed it out.
"Jonathan Vilma is a great player and he read it well," said Snelling who had a career-high in receiving yards with 65. "As soon as I caught the ball he was on me and I came up short…
"When I read it I knew it was going to be a bang, bang play. I tried to fight for that extra yard. Like I say, he made a great play. They're a good team and they came up with the play today."
MORE FALCONS-SAINTS GAME COVERAGE:
GAMEDAY LIVE:Falcons-Saints coverage from AtlantaFalcons.com * GAME CENTER:Stats and more on the game from NFL.com * FALCONS FIRST TAKE:Mike Smith, Chris Redman and others talk with Dave Archer * MULTIMEDIA:More video and player interviews from AF.com * GAME RECAP:John Manasso takes a look at the Falcons offense * J. MIKE'S MISSIVES:More thoughts from the AF.com managing editor * THE BEAT BLOG:John Manasso tracks the game quarter-by-quarter * GAME NOTES:Official game notes from the Georgia Dome press box * TRANSCRIPTS:Falcons players talk about Sunday's game | Saints * IMAGES:Exclusive photos from Sunday's Falcons-Saints game * INACTIVES:Game inactives and official starters listed pregame * FORUMS:Talk about the game with other fans on FalconsLIFE