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Falcons coach irate, Saints coach apologetic after victory formation TD

Atlanta Coach Arthur Smith, right, had some words for New Orleans counterpart Dennis Allen. (Tyler Kaufman/AP)
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Falcons Coach Arthur Smith was irate and Saints Coach Dennis Allen was apologetic Sunday after New Orleans scored a late touchdown out of the victory formation in its 48-17 home win over Atlanta.

After returning an interception to the Falcons’ 1-yard line with 1 minute 13 seconds to go, the Saints set up in the formation, from which teams normally kneel on the ball to drain the clock with victory assured.

Instead, New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston handed the ball to running back Jamaal Williams, who plowed into the end zone.

Moments later, once the game had ended, Smith strode to midfield to express his displeasure with Allen. Smith, whose Falcons fell to 7-10, could be heard on the CBS telecast using profanity to angrily make his point.

“It got out of hand,” Smith subsequently told reporters about a game that was tied at 17 at halftime before New Orleans blew it open, “and you can do whatever you want. I just gave them my opinion about it.”

“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. We should have taken a knee, so I want to apologize to them,” Allen said at a postgame news conference. “We’ve got a good rivalry and it’s a heated rivalry, but there’s a way we go about doing our business, and I wasn’t happy about that.”

Allen, a 51-year-old in his second season as the Saints’ coach, said his players had “asked me about getting Jamaal a touchdown at the end.”

“I said I wanted to take a knee,” Allen continued. “We put victory [formation] out there, and the guys kind of wanted to get him a touchdown. They did that on their own, and that’s not acceptable.”

Williams came into the game without a touchdown this season after scoring an NFL-leading 17 on the ground last season for the Detroit Lions.

“I couldn’t go home without getting him one,” Saints guard Cesar Ruiz said of the players’ decision to go rogue on Williams’s behalf at the goal line. “Whatever heat that comes with that, put that on the [offensive] line.”

Winston — a backup to Saints starter Derek Carr who only entered the game for that play — said bucking Allen’s wishes was “a collective decision.” Winston added (via ESPN) that he apologized to Allen.

The Saints improved to 9-8 with the victory, but by the time they got in formation for that play, they and the Falcons knew they both had been eliminated from playoff contention. Each team needed not only a win Sunday but also a loss by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who instead defeated the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South with a 9-8 record.

Atlanta earned a 7-10 record for the third time in as many seasons with Smith as its coach. With division rivals also struggling to get above .500, the Falcons were well-positioned in early December to finish ahead of them, but losses to the Bucs and a Panthers squad that was 1-12 at the time damaged Atlanta’s chances and led to questions about Smith’s job security.

Those questions were answered early Monday morning when the Falcons announced Smith had been dismissed.