Sean Payton returned to the New Orleans Saints sideline and despite being an offensive-minded coach, he made a defensive statement from the beginning.
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.
And so Payton put the new product on the field immediately, 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,” said Roman Harper, who intercepted Matt Ryan’s fourth-down pass with less than a minute to go. “So just a whole different feel and the things that we’re trying to accomplish, this is just one step in the right direction.”
Drew Brees passed for 357 yards and two scores, but he was just as excited about the defense that gave up only seven points in the final three quarters. “I was hoping our defense would pull one out, and man, did they ever,” Brees said.
The defense did bend in the final drive, allowing the Falcons to move from their 20 to the Saints’ 7. Earlier Rob Ryan’s unit gave up two 50-yard plays, but it also produced pressure that constantly had Matt Ryan on his heels.
Ryan was sacked three times — by Junior Galette, Akiem Hicks and Parys Haralson — and threw balls away several times.
The defense had three key plays:
- First was a momentum-changing turnover when Malcolm Jenkins stripped receiver Julio Jones after a catch near midfield and Harper recovered, setting up a touchdown that tied the score at 10 in the second quarter.
- Next, on third-and-goal in the final Falcons drive, Ramon Humber broke up a pass for Steven 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 in the end zone and Harper made the interception.