Saints' faith in Garrett Hartley pays off

NEW ORLEANS -- As if New Orleans Saints' kicker Garrett Hartley didn’t have enough pressure on him already heading into Sunday’s game, there he was, facing the game-tying and game-winning field goal attempts in the final 2:06.

And true to his history, Hartley delivered in the clutch, drilling a 42-yarder and a 31-yarder to seal New Orleans’ 23-20 victory against the San Francisco 49ers.

“I would definitely say (this past week) tested me,” admitted Hartley, who had missed four of his past six field goals, prompting the Saints to bring in several kickers for workouts this past week to update their emergency list. “And it was time to show everyone, I guess, how thick my skin is.”

Hartley said he would have been just as happy if the Saints had won on a safety -- which nearly happened with 1:56 remaining. But he admitted it was funny the way things worked out, that he got to prove himself in such a big moment after such a high-profile slump.

It was similar to the way things worked out in 2009, when Hartley was slumping late in the regular season before making the game-winning kick in the NFC Championship Game and three big kicks in the Super Bowl.

“It was really funny that this happened the way it did today, because on the way to the stadium I was actually on the phone with John Carney, just kind of picking his brain a little bit,” Hartley said of the former Saints kicker, who became his mentor. “And the same thing he told me in the NFC (Championship) Game, when it’s coming down to the wire, you just take yourself out of it. You can’t control anything else other than if you’re given the opportunity. And that’s just the way things unfolded, and this one definitely is a little bit sweeter than most.”

Teammates were happy for Hartley, but they insisted they weren’t surprised.

In just six NFL seasons, Hartley has been through more ups and downs than most veteran kickers. He’s had a four-game suspension because of a banned stimulant, a performance-based benching and an entire season lost to a hip injury. Each time, he has bounced back.

“I told him that we believe in you and that you are our guy. We all did,” saints quarterback Drew Brees said of the support throughout the week. “Garrett has had his ups and downs throughout his career, but he has made a lot of big kicks for us. I think that is just the life of a kicker.”

Kudos to Saints coach Sean Payton for feeling the same way. Payton insisted this past week, that he remained confident in Hartley based on his history. And he didn't have an itchy trigger finger, like he did with some kickers and punters earlier in his tenure.

That faith paid off in a big way Sunday.