ATLANTA - Bobby Hebert earned a $250,000 incentive bonus and Eric Metcalf finally scored a touchdown Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons, surviving a penalty on a kneel-down play near the end of the game, rebounded from last week's 43-point loss at St. Louis to beat the New Orleans Saints 17-15 before a crowd of 43,119 fans.
The Falcons (2-9) fell one game behind the New York Jets in the "race" for the 1997 No. 1 draft pick. New Orleans (2-8) also has a shot at what could be the right to draft Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, son of former Saints great Archie Manning.
Hebert, who played for the Saints from 1985-92, completed 26 of 39 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He picked up $250,000 for playing in 50 percent of two victories as part of his incentive-laden one-year contract.
"I didn't even know about it," Hebert said. "My wife handles all of that stuff. That's like last year, when we beat the 49ers (on Christmas Eve). I had a clause in my contract where, if I played in more than two two quarters and it was a game that caused us to make the playoffs, I got a $300,000 bonus. I didn't know about it until my wife wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it in my Christmas card."
Hebert hit Metcalf on an 8-yard scoring pass in the first quarter and Terance Mathis for a 5-yard TD in the second. Metcalf hadn't scored a touchdown through 10 games after leading the team with 10 TDs last year.
Falcons linebacker Ron George refused to call the victory "ugly," even though the Saints turned the ball over on their first three possessions and the Falcons had to punt with 27 seconds left because they couldn't execute a simple play to run the clock out.
"There are no ugly wins," George said. "That's like saying there's bad pizza."
But there are ugly plays. Hebert called "X and Z tight, red, kneel down," on second and 11 from the Atlanta 21 with 1:12 left. He was supposed to take the snap and kneel down.
Receiver J.J. Birden thought Hebert said "exit," which calls for the receiver to go into motion. Birden did just that, and the Falcons were called for an illegal formation.
New Orleans got the ball with 18 seconds remaining and, needing only a field goal to win, drove to the Atlanta 39 before time ran out.
"All we have to do is kneel down, and we can't get that done," coach June Jones said in disgust. "Bobby has a Cajun slang, and the receiver misunderstood what he said."
Said Hebert, "We were in different personnel group, and then we went into four wide outs. When we finally got the four wideouts in the game, the clock's running down. So, I'm in the huddle calling the play. I guess I said it fast because J.J. and Bert (Emanuel) didn't hear it right. When we broke the huddle, Bert says, `Where do I go?' I'm like, `It's red kneel down! What do you mean?"'
Why the Falcons were changing personnel before a kneel-down play is a question management may want to ask when they evaluate the coaching staff after this season.
The Falcons' defense, playing perhaps its best game of the year, held the Saints to 34 yards rushing on 16 carries. The Saints had minus-1 yard rushing through three quarters until Mario Bates provided some punch in the final period (four carries, 38 yards).
Atlanta's defense also managed two interceptions - by Cornelius Bennett and Brad Edwards - to triple its season total to three. George recovered a Ray Zellers fumble.
Morten Anderson, a former Saint who had eight field goals against his old team last year, missed three out of four attempts in this one. He made a 38-yarder in the first quarter, but failed from 52 yards twice and 55 yards.
The Saints scored on field goals of 42 and 37 yards by Doug Brien in the second and third quarters, respectively, and a 19-yard swing pass from Everett to Lorenzo Neal with 11:25 left in the game to cut Atlanta's lead to 17-12.
Saints interim coach Rick Venturi gambled with 2:38 remaining by having Brien kick a 30-yard field goal to cut the Falcons' lead to two. The Saints had a fourth-and-six at the 28.
"We had two time outs, plus the two-minute warning," Venturi explained. "I felt that we had struggled in those situations offensively and that the kick was the right decision. Our defense was playing great at the time."
The Saints actually had only two time outs left, and they used those up before the two-minute warning. Atlanta drove for one first down and could have then run out the clock if not for the botched kneel-down play.
NOTES: Saints veteran left guard Jim Dombrowski sustained a right ankle fracture in the second quarter and may be lost for the year. One of the most durable players in Saints history, Dombrowski has played in every game since the 1988 season opener. The Saints played the entire game without standout offensive tackle Willie Roaf, who has a sprained knee. ... The Falcons have won six in a row at home against NFC West opponents. Jones is 7-2 at home against the NFC West and 14-8 overall in the Georgia Dome. .. Mathis and his TLC Foundation (Terance Loves Children) will distribute more than 1,000 frozen turkeys to the less fortunate for Thanksgiving. "It's my way of giving back to the community," said Mathis, who attended high school in Stone Mountain, Ga. ... The 15 points allowed was a season low for the Atlanta defense.