1:00 PM ET, September 8, 2013
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
NEW ORLEANS -- Sean Payton's return to the sideline is one game old and already the Saints are celebrating a dramatic victory over a presumed title contender.
They're alone in first place, too.
"I was hoping our defense would pull one out, and man, did they ever," Brees said.
Last season, while suspended in connection with the NFL's bounty probe, Payton watched helplessly from afar as the Saints fielded one of the worst defenses ever, yielding a single-season record 7,042 yards. One of his first moves upon reinstatement was to hire Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.
Payton put the new product on the field right away, electing to kick off when the Saints won the coin toss.
"Sean sent the defense out first, which you would never have seen in the past," Harper said. "So just a whole different feel and the things that we're trying to accomplish, this is just one step in the right direction."
Brees' first touchdown went to Marques Colston, who made a diving, 25-yard snag for his 533rd catch, setting a franchise record.
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It took their seventh try, but the Saints finally notched a season-opening victory over the division rival Falcons.
|First 6 Openers||Sunday|
"That's just vintage Marques Colston," Brees said. "I have so much trust and confidence in him. He knows the ball's coming to him and he's going to make that play."
Brees also hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 7-yard score in the third quarter to give the Saints the lead for good.
"It was just important to get the first win," Payton said. "You try to compartmentalize each week, each game, and we played a good team. ... We fought hard, especially late."
New Orleans' day got even better when Tampa Bay and Carolina lost, leaving the Saints atop the NFC South.
Atlanta's Ryan passed for 304 yards and touchdown passes to Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones. In the final three minutes, Ryan quickly drove Atlanta to the Saints 3 before the New Orleans defense stiffened.
"When we play the Saints, it's usually hard-fought, and it turned out that way again," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "We have to protect the quarterback a lot better."
Steven Jackson rushed 11 times for 77 yards in his Atlanta debut, including a 50-yard run.
New Orleans' defense gave up two 50-yard plays, the other on Harry Douglas's reception, but also produced pressure regularly.
Ryan was sacked three times -- by Junior Galette, Akiem Hicks and Parys Haralson -- and threw balls away several times, including on an early third down that forced Atlanta to settle for a field goal.
The group also produced a momentum-changing turnover when Malcolm Jenkins stripped Jones and Harper recovered, setting up Colston's TD, which tied the game at 10 in the second quarter.
Colston finished with five catches for 68 yards. Darren Sproles caught six passes for 88 yards.
Douglas caught four passes for 93 yards, including a 20-yarder to the New Orleans 7 on Atlanta's final drive. But that turned out to be Ryan's last significant completion on a drive which started with connections of 17, 16, 7 and 13 yards.
On third-and-goal, Ramon Humber broke up a pass for Jackson at the goal line.
"I dropped the ball," Jackson said. "It wasn't the easiest catch, but I'm not a person to make excuses."
Then rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro tipped Ryan's fourth down pass for Gonzalez in the end zone and Harper dived to catch it before teammates piled on him while the Superdome crowd erupted.
"The ball was up in the air and I liked my chances, but we were just a fingertip away," Gonzalez said. "So for that, give them credit."
Smith said the drive was well-executed "until we got inside the 10-yard line. ... The final play is going to be analyzed 5,000 times in the next three days."
Before kickoff, Payton helped former special teams standout Steve Gleason, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, initiate the Superdome crowd's traditional pregame "Who dat!" chant.
Fans stood and cheered passionately as Payton held up Gleason's arm with his left hand and held up his own right arm, then lowered both to initiate the chant by fans eagerly awaiting a matchup between the past two teams to win NFC South.
It didn't translate to a good start for the home club, though.
The Falcons struck for the first big play on Douglas' 50-yard catch and run to the New Orleans 10, setting up Ryan's 7-yard TD pass to Gonzalez.
Atlanta later stuffed running back Mark Ingram on fourth-and-short near midfield, and quickly drove for a short field goal and a 10-0 lead. Garrett Hartley's 48-yard field goal in the second quarter made it 10-3.
New Orleans then went up 13-10 on a short field goal set up by rookie Kenny Stills' 67-yard catch, and that score stood until halftime.
Saints NT Brodrick Bunkley (right leg), DE Tyrunn Walker (left leg) and CB Patrick Robinson (undisclosed leg injury) all left the game. Payton did not provide updates on their condition. ... Atlanta has lost seven of eight in New Orleans since Payton became coach and lost a season opener to New Orleans for the first time ever after winning the first six.
NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 08: Head Coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints walks on the field before...(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Team Stat Comparison
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
|Yards per play||6.7||6.3|
Yards per pass
Yards per rush
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||2-4||1-3|
|Defensive / Special Teams TDs||0||0|
|TD||8:40||Tony Gonzalez 7 Yard Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 82 yds, 3:06
|FG||1:30||Matt Bryant 23 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 8 plays, 40 yds, 3:57
|FG||10:58||Garrett Hartley 48 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 12 plays, 50 yds, 5:35
|TD||9:16||Marques Colston 25 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 31 yds, 1:26
|FG||1:50||Garrett Hartley 31 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 6 plays, 67 yds, 4:02
|TD||11:45||Julio Jones 4 Yard Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 59 yds, 1:58
|TD||6:29||Jimmy Graham 7 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 80 yds, 5:19
|FG||3:16||Garrett Hartley 22 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 10 plays, 68 yds, 6:12
The Saints had been historically futile when opening the season against the Falcons, losing each of their first six Week 1 matchups. New Orleans won by six today after averaging in three-touchdown loss in their previous six meetings.[+]
Saints Head-to-Head vs Falcons - In Season Openers
The Falcons had possession in the final two minutes of each half but failed to score either time. Matt Ryan was only 4-of-9 with an interception in those situations Sunday after finishing last season with a league-best completion percentage (70.5 percent) and the most attempts without an interception (78).
The Saints sacked or put Matt Ryan under duress 12 times Sunday after doing so 13 times in two games against Ryan last season. Although Ryan threw a touchdown on his first attempt under duress, he went 2-of-8 on his next nine attempts, including the game-clinching interception.[+]
Saints' Defense Pressuring Matt Ryan - Last 2 Seasons
Although the Falcons' season ended last year on a failed drive late, Matt Ryan made a big jump in the two-minute drill last season, one reason he had 6 game-winning drives in the 4th qtr/OT (2nd in NFL behind Andrew Luck's 7):[+]
Matt Ryan in 2-Minute Drill - Career Including Playoffs
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