New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Drew Brees threw for 357 yards and two
touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints' much-maligned defense came up with a
huge stop late to preserve a 23-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons that gave
head coach Sean Payton a triumphant return to the sidelines.
A unit that surrendered an NFL-record 7,042 total yards last season held
Atlanta's potent offense scoreless over its final four drives. the last of
which ended when Roman Harper intercepted Matt Ryan in the end zone on 4th-
and-goal with 43 seconds left.
Brees did his part as well, shaking off a second-half interception to
complete 26-of-35 throws that included a 7-yard connection with Jimmy Graham
that put New Orleans (1-0) up 20-17 with 6:22 left in the third quarter.
Darren Sproles hauled in six of Brees' passes for 88 yards, while Marques
Colston had five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown to help make Payton a
winner in his first game back from a year-long suspension for his involvement
in the Saints' well-publicized bounty scandal.
Ryan finished with 304 yards on 25-of-38 passing with two touchdowns along
with the pivotal pick. Julio Jones had seven receptions totaling 76 yards and
a touchdown for defending NFC South champion Atlanta (0-1), with Harry
Douglas compiling 93 yards on four grabs in the loss.
The usually aggressive Payton opted to play it safe with New Orleans holding a
three-point lead with under four minutes to go, bringing on Garrett Hartley
for a 22-yard field goal try on a 4th-and-2 situation from the Atlanta 4.
Hartley knocked home his third 3-pointer of the afternoon to give the Saints a
23-17 edge with 3:12 left, leaving the game's fate in the hands of the
revamped defense under Rob Ryan.
The decision looked questionable after Matt Ryan completed four straight
passes to march the Falcons inside the Saints' 30 by the two-minute warning,
and a 20-yard hookup with Douglas created a 1st-and-goal at the seven with
Matt Ryan's next attempt fell incomplete and Roddy White managed just four
yards on the following play. Matt Ryan then found Steven Jackson over the
middle for a would-be touchdown that the veteran running back had slip off his
hands to bring on fourth down.
The Saints brought the blitz on the deciding snap, forcing the Atlanta QB to
loft the ball off his back foot for Tony Gonzalez into a crowd. The ball was
tipped in the air and landed in the arms of Harper to seal the win.
Atlanta moved the ball with ease on its initial drive of the second half, with
Jackson ripping off a 50-yard run off right tackle on the second play and Matt
Ryan hitting Jones in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown just over a minute
later that put the Falcons up by a 17-13 count.
The Saints stiffened thereafter, inducing two straight three-and-outs and
sacking Matt Ryan twice over that stretch. Prior to the first failed series,
Brees carved up the Atlanta secondary in leading a 10-play, 80-yard jaunt that
sent New Orleans back in front.
Brees hit on 6-of-7 throws for 74 yards on the go-ahead possession, capped by
his 7-yard strike to Graham in the right flat that staked the Saints to a
The standout signal-caller was on the mark as well to put New Orleans again in
scoring range with time winding down. Brees dropped in a 32-yard pass to
Sproles on a wheel route, then later teamed with Colston for a 19-yard gain to
the Atlanta 12 on 3rd-and-14 to help set up Hartley's kick that increased the
lead to 23-17.
Atlanta struck first following an exchange of punts to start the game. Matt
Ryan hit Douglas on a crossing pattern that the slot receiver took 50 yards to
the New Orleans 10, then later rolled out before firing a dart to Gonzalez
from seven yards away that gave Atlanta a 7-0 edge around 6 1/2 minutes in.
Payton then gambled on the ensuing possession, running a play on 4th-and-1
from the Saints' 47 in which Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent stuffed Mark Ingram
for a loss.
Atlanta promptly moved back into scoring range, highlighted by Matt Ryan's 12-
yard scramble on 3rd-and-6 that was coupled by an unnecessary roughness
penalty on New Orleans' Kenny Vaccaro that created a 1st-and-goal situation.
The Saints' defense held, however, and the Falcons settled for Matt Bryant's
23-yard field goal and a 10-0 advantage.
New Orleans responded with a 12-play, 50-yard sequence that featured a 21-yard
grab by Graham on 3rd-and-9 and culminated in Hartley's 48-yard field goal
with just over four minutes elapsed in the second quarter. The defense
continued the momentum on Atlanta's next series, with Malcolm Jenkins forcing
a fumble from Jones that Harper scooped up and returned 19 yards to the
Three plays later, Colston made an acrobatic catch on a well-thrown Brees deep
ball for a 25-yard touchdown that knotted the score at 10-10.
Brees delivered another pinpoint pass on New Orleans' subsequent drive, a dart
to Kenny Stills that the rookie broke free for a 67-yard gain inside the
Atlanta 10. A pair of penalties from guard Jahri Evans backed the Saints up,
however, causing Hartley to come on for a 31-yard field goal shortly after the
Colston's touchdown grab was his 533rd career catch as a Saint, moving him
past Eric Martin for the franchise lead in receptions ... Jackson amassed 122
total yards (77 rushing, 45 receiving) in the former Ram's first game as a
Falcon ... New Orleans cornerbacks Keenan Lewis (leg) and Patrick Robinson
(foot) each exited the game with injuries, while defensive tackle Brodrick
Bunkley did not return after hurting his lower leg in the first quarter ...
Brees now has 412 career completions against Atlanta, surpassing Joe Montana
(398) for the most by an opposing quarterback against the Falcons ... Atlanta
cornerback Asante Samuel was inactive due to a thigh injury.
The Sports Network