NEW ORLEANS - Call it your basic Saints vs. Falcons game. What else would you expect? Close game, Saints win, as they always seem to do under Sean Payton against Atlanta.
What you had to love was that the defense won it. While the offense did some good things, 23 points is often not enough to beat the Falcons. It was, thanks to the New Orleans defense.
The defense forced two turnovers, including the game-clinching interception by Roman Harper on a tip by Kenny Vaccaro in the 23-17 triumph. Of course, you must also credit the outstanding pressure by Curtis Lofton, who was pulling on Matt Ryan as he was releasing the football.
Of course, the defense set the bar high early, getting a stop on the first Falcons' possession but the Saints offense could do nothing. The defensive front, barring severe injuries, has a chance to be good, if not better. Vaccaro and Lewis help in the secondary.
Drew Brees was good, not great. Mark Ingram was far less. The offensive line has some work to do. Marques Colston is back, along with Lance Moore. Jimmy Graham is, well, Jimmy Graham. Darren Sproles is still the mighty mite. Kenny Stills can play.
This was a huge win by the Saints against a legitimate Super Bowl contender. An Atlanta loss will not hurt them much. The Saints held serve in tennis parlance. A Saints loss would have truly hurt. They won. They earned it. The 'Dome was rocking. It was a great atmosphere and a terrific game played between two good teams.
**Great moment with Sean Payton and Steve Gleason starting the Who Dat chant before the game. Great tribute to Jerry Romig as well. Nice to see Scott Fujita there as well.
**This was the first season-opening win by the Saints over the Falcons ever after being 0-6. Of course, they had not opened against each other since the mid 80's.
**Vaccaro started for the Saints defensively, who started three safeties. Vaccaro had five tackles.
**All three safeties figured prominently in the win. Malcolm Jenkins forced a fumble, Roman Harper recovered a fumble and had an interception and Vaccaro had the huge tipped pass, resulting in Harper's interception.
**Harper played in his 100th regular season game for the Saints, becoming just the 49th player in franchise history to achieve that milestone.
**The Saints sacked Matt Ryan three times and had pressure on him frequently. In two games combined against Atlanta in 2012, the Saints did not sack Matt Ryan.
**Rob Ryan gets a huge thumbs up for the performance of his defense. His guys got pressure, often with just their defensive linemen. The Amoeba look is a nice change-of-pace which can confuse an offense. With his brother's big win for the Jets over Tampa Bay, it was a good day for guys named Ryan, with the exception of Matt.
**New Orleans held Atlanta to 367 total yards and 17 points. That is a winning performance.
**Other than Steven Jackson's 50-yard run, the Saints held the Falcons to 38 yards rushing on 13 attempts.
**Getting a 3-and-out on the first Atlanta offensive possession was huge. Will Herring had blanket coverage on Tony Gonzalez on third down.
**Rod Sweeting did a great impersonation of an Atlanta player by stopping Darren Sproles on the first punt return of the game. Sproles looked to have an alley to run.
**Harry Douglas popped wide open against zone coverage for a 50-yard completion from Matt Ryan to the New Orleans 10. Keenan Lewis hustled him down to save a touchdown.
**Tony Gonzalez became the third player in NFL history to have at least one touchdown catch in 17 different seasons with his seven-yard touchdown catch from Ryan. The man is a legend!
**Brodrick Bunkley went down with 8:54 to play in the first quarter.
**Mark Ingram lost a yard on fourth-and-one from the New Orleans 47. Of course, Pierre Thomas looked to have made the first down on the previous reception but the Saints did not challenge the mark, which was just short of the first down.
**Brees underthrew Kenny Stills on a deep ball early in the second quarter. He had room.
**Ben Grubbs had a rough time in the first half.
**Jabari Greer forces fumble by Julio Jones, Roman Harper recovers. Leads to touchdown. Shades of 2009. Roman Harper played in his 100th career game. It was his third fumble recovery. He has forced 13 fumbles in his career.
**Colston's game-tying touchdown catch was his 533rd career catch, breaking a tie with Saints Hall of Famer Eric Martin for the most catches in Saints history.
**Tom Johnson got a good pass rush to force a Falcons incomplete pass and punt in the second quarter.
**Kenny Stills crushed Robert McClain on the 56-yard completion from Brees in the second quarter. That was quite a first catch for his career.
**Jahri Evans, the one elite offensive lineman the Saints have, killed a drive with consecutive holding penalties late in the second quarter.
**You want balance? The Saints rushed 16 times, passed 15 times in first half. Kept stunting Falcons defense honest, shortened game in the process, win time of possession. While the Saints rushed for just a modest total of 78 yards, they kept the Falcons honest and set up play-action. New Orleans passed 38 times and rushed 29 times. The optimum number is 25-30 rushes per game for the Saints. By comparison, the Falcons rushed just 14 times and passed 38 times. No balance there.
**Isn't about time to think about moving from Mark Ingram? He lacks quickness, speed and elusiveness. The Saints opened the second half with a three-and-out after Brees missed an open Stills and Ingram tackled himself on a well blocked play for two yards before a sack.
**Steven Jackson exposed the backside of the Saints defense on his cut-back, 50 yard jaunt to the five-yard line, setting up the four-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Jones, who whipped Corey White.
**Isn't it about time for the competition committee to consider moving kickoffs back five more yards? Everyone is kicking touchbacks, particularly indoors. Of course, the competition committee wanted to limit kick returns, anyway, in an attempt to limit injuries.
**Atlanta burned a timeout with 8:23 to play in the third quarter, leaving them with just two remaining in the game. Of course, the Saints proceeded to burn a timeout on their next possession with 6:29 to play in the third quarter, at the Atlanta seven-yard line.
**The interception by Robert Alford on the Brees pass to Colston was a big-time play. That is the kind of corner play championship teams display.
**Outside of the 50-yard run by Steven Jackson in the third quarter, the Falcons gained four yards in the period. Some job by the Saints "D."
**Brees missed an open Graham in the flat to kill a drive early in the fourth quarter.
**Brees became the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw multiple touchdown passes in 100 or more games, joining Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Fran Tarkenton.
**Brees has now thrown for at least 20 completions in 53 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history.
**What is poignant is that Brees was not at his best. He threw some balls low, missed three open receivers, and still completed 26-of-35 (74%) for 357 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
**The Saints finally have a second tight end who can run and catch in Benjamin Watson. He will really help this offense.
**Atlanta had no answer for Darren Sproles out of the backfield. He was simply too quick and fast for any Atlanta linebacker to cover.
**Patrick Robinson left the game injured. The Saints need this guy healthy.
**Did not like lining up on fourth-and-two at the Atlanta four-yard line and taking your second timeout. Why not take the delay of game? It is a chip-shot field goal for Hartley. You may have needed that timeout later.
**Tough cover for Malcolm Jenkins, trying to cover Douglas, who caught 19-yard pass to Saints eight-yard line.
**Atlanta called timeout with 52 seconds left at the Saints three-yard line, saving the Saints a timeout.
**Roman Harper made perhaps his biggest interception of his career on a ball tipped by Kenny Vacarro. Good pressure on Ryan was huge by Curtis Lofton, who affected the throw by pulling Ryan down as he was throwing. The pick came with 43 seconds left. Atlanta had taken two timeouts, burning them all, perhaps unnecessarily. They could have taken their time.
**A concern moving forward is the defensive line. While it is a strength of the team and deep, that depth could be severely tested moving forward. Both Bunkley and Walker left the game with leg injuries and Glenn Foster was already out.
**Change is constant in the NFL. Of the 53 players on the opening day roster for the Saints, 19 were not on the roster in 2012.
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