Saints' Michael Mauti witnessed Steve Gleason block, then recreated it

The Saints' Michael Mauti blocked a Falcons punt and recovered it for a TD to put the Saints up 14-0. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- Michael Mauti's blocked punt Thursday night was a game-changer -- and for that matter, a season-changer for the New Orleans Saints.

He can credit it to advance scouting.

Mauti was in the stands the night Steve Gleason made one of the greatest plays in Saints history, blocking a punt to beat the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 on the night the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina.

"That's what I've been dreaming about since I was sitting in that seat up there," said Mauti, who recreated the moment Thursday night against the very same opponent in the first quarter.

Mauti added his own twist by also recovering the punt for the touchdown, which put New Orleans up 14-0 en route to a 31-21 victory over the rival Falcons. The win kept the Saints afloat at 2-4 while handing the Falcons (5-1) their first loss of the season.

"I don't think it's hit me yet. ... To live that out is something special," said Mauti, who grew up in the New Orleans area as the son of another former Saints special-teams standout, Rich Mauti.

Making it even more special was the fact that Gleason was in the building on a night when he was honored before the game with the George Halas Award from the Professional Football Writers of America.

Gleason, who hasn't lost his sharp sense of humor since being diagnosed with ALS in 2011, fed off the moment with a classic tweet.

"He's one of my heroes, man," Michael Mauti said. "I remember watching him when I was in high school. And as a 'teamer, I looked up to him. And to do that, especially against Atlanta like he did, that's just something I've been dreaming about for a long time."

The Saints brought Mauti home this September after he was released by the Minnesota Vikings.

Mauti, who was a sophomore at Mandeville High School when Katrina hit, spoke with ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling this summer before the 10th anniversary of Katrina. Mauti talked a lot about how special that night was when the Superdome reopened a year later.

"That was the loudest I've ever heard any stadium. I get goose bumps thinking about it," Mauti told Goessling. "That was the most moving football moment I've ever witnessed, and I've been a part of a lot. People were crying before the game. That was unbelievable. I'll never forget that.

"It was numbing. I was in the lower level. My whole head was [throbbing]. It was insane."

Mauti nailed the imitation, as these photos by Times-Picayune photographer Michael DeMocker illustrate.

Mauti said Saints special-teams coordinator Greg McMahon installed that particular punt block design earlier in the week.

"In that situation, we don't know who's going to block it, we know we're going to put some pressure on 'em," Mauti said. "I just happened to be the guy who came free."

"It was awesome. Obviously that was a huge play in the game. It gives us a two-possession lead and the whole stadium erupts," said Drew Brees, who also knows the Gleason play well because Brees was making his home debut as the Saints' quarterback that night. "The cool thing was that Steve was here to see that, and they throw him up there on the JumboTron, and it brought back some good memories. Obviously we get to add tonight to those as well."