It may have taken 13 months, but for the New Orleans Saints, Monday night they finally returned home. Home for the Saints clearly helped out, as the team played with more emotion than at any point in the teams history, and that emotion was more than enough to overcome the rival Atlanta Falcons 23-3. The crowd was into the game well before the opening kickoff, and for at least one night the city put the nightmare of last years hurricane behind them. The crowd had plenty to cheer about, as new coach Sean Payton and his staff put together a game plan that stopped the Falcons cold. Michael Vick, who had two solid games before Monday night, was just 12-for-31 for 137 yards.
“This night belongs to the city, it belongs to the state of Louisiana, everyone in the Gulf South,” Payton said following the win. “There’s a lot of work to be done still, but this night belongs to the people of New Orleans. They deserve something.” The Saints gave the fans everything and more, getting off to a huge start with a blocked punt that was recovered for the games first points just minutes in. The Falcons never really had an answer, and suddenly it looks like the NFC South is more up for grabs than ever. The Saints, a team that was expected to win maybe at most 5-6 games, now are sitting pretty atop the division at 3-0 with a huge game at Carolina on Sunday. The Falcons fall to 2-1 with a home game vs Arizona Sunday.
New Orleans used just about every trick in the book to cross up the Saints. First it was the blocked punt, then a double reverse that put Devery Henderson into the end zone later in the first quarter that built a Saints 14-3 lead. The play was again, a brainchild of Payton and his staff, that should get a lot of credit for outcoaching the Falcons Jim Mora Jr. all night. The Saints offense was led by Drew Brees, who completed 20-of-28 passes for 191 yards, and Deuce McAllister rushed 19 times for 81 yards for the Saints. Reggie Bush had 13 carries for 53 yards. Marques Colston had seven receptions for 97 yards.
“We didn’t win this game today. We won this game during the week by the way we prepared, by the way we practiced,” Bush said. “That’s where we won the game.” It was hard not to notice that the Falcons heart may have not been in the game with the way that the league and the nation had embraced the Saints and their return home. Mora in the postgame pointed out that very point. “As hard as it is to lose this game tonight, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a little, little, little, little piece of me that didn’t just appreciate what this game meant to this city,” Mora said.
For the Saints, it was a happy homecoming, and with a 3-0 record, things will only get tougher. They have beaten two bad teams (Cleveland and Green Bay) and held the rival Falcons in check in an emotional home opener. Now we’ll see what they can do when the road isn’t quite so pretty on Sunday in Carolina against a Panthers team that escaped Tampa with a win on Sunday and Steve Smith back in the lineup and ready to go.