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Saints defense rejects Falcons

New Orleans picks off Matt Ryan on a 4th & Goal to preserve the season opening win
Of the myriad storylines present Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, one stood tallest.

Taller than Marques Colston’s record-setting reception, a graceful, outstretched 25-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees in the second quarter that gave him the franchise career receptions lead, with 533.

Looking down even on the regular-season return of Coach Sean Payton, who missed the 2012 regular season and whose presence and influence was felt even before kickoff, as he teamed with former Saints safety Steve Gleason to initiate an emotional “Who Dat” chant by Saints fans.

Alone, deserving of its own marquee in a 23-17 New Orleans victory over Atlanta, was Rob Ryan’s defense.

With two forced turnovers (a fumble recovery and interception by safety Roman Harper), three sacks (Parys Haralson, Akiem Hicks and Junior Galette), a fourth down that clinched the win, 367 yards allowed and a sterling third-down stop rate (the Falcons were 3 for 11), the Saints’ defense was as prideful and stout as it could’ve hoped to be entering the season-opening game.

“It was obviously big,” Payton said of the fourth-down stop. “It was the difference between winning and losing. We gave up some plays and some yardage and I thought after that first quarter, we settled in and mixed some things up. That is a real good offense we played.”

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