It was a close, nail-biting game between the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, but ultimately the Saints were able to come away with a 23-20 victory and improve to 8-2 on the season. New Orleans was clearly the better team on paper, but costly mistakes kept the 49ers closer than they should have been.
Thankfully, New Orleans had a veteran they could lean on. An experienced player who could help shoulder the weight and drive his team to a victory and help them reach the playoffs. Much to the surprise of everybody, however, was that this player was not Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees or the franchise leader in reception yards Marques Colston. It was not even a versatile offensive veteran like Darren Sproles or dependable workhorse Pierre Thomas.
No, the man in question was kicker Garrett Hartley.
There were some questions surrounding Hartley, his confidence and his ability to kick leading up to this game. Enough questions, actually, that New Orleans brought in several kickers for workouts this past week in case they needed to make a change at the position and update their depth.
This was to be expected, after all, as the Saints’ kicker had missed four of his last six field goal attempts prior to this game. That was not enough for New Orleans head coach Sean Payton to count Hartley out, however. This was the man that sent the Saints to their first Super Bowl in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
Hartley went a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals against the 49ers, knocking in tries from 21, 42 and 31-yards out.
This is what good coaching can do for a team. Other coaches might have went with a different kicker, but Payton stayed the course and showed the confidence he has in Hartley. I expect this decision to reverberate through the rest of the season and I am going to call it right now.
Hartley will not miss another field goal from within his range for the rest of the season.