Saints march to opening win
The New Orleans Saints kept the Atlanta Falcons at bay in the final seconds to secure a 23-17 win on head coach Sean Payton's return to the sidelines.
The Falcons saw a pass by quarterback Matt Ryan intercepted on a fourth-down play on the Saints' three-yard line to effectively end the contest between the two NFC South rivals.
In the end New Orleans defense, now under the stewardship of new coordinator Rob Ryan, held firm to give Payton the perfect comeback from his year-long suspension for his part in the 'Bountygate' affair.
Drew Brees passed for 357 yards and two scores - one each to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham - for New Orleans, who twice had to rally from deficits to win their home opener.
The quarterback's 25-yard scoring pass in the second quarter to Marques Colston proved to be a landmark play, as the wide receiver set a new franchise mark for catches with 533.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns himself; he drove his team within touching distance of a game-winning score, marching the offense downfield from their own 20-yard line with a series of short passes.
A completion to Roddy White made it second and seven, but the next play saw new running back Steven Jackson unable to cling on over the middle under pressure.
With the game on the line, Ryan took aim at Tony Gonzalez in the end zone only for rookie Kenny Vaccaro to tip it up into the air, allowing veteran safety Roman Harper to complete the interception and clinch the victory.
Atlanta had held a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter after Ryan's seven-yard touchdown to tight end Gonzalez was added to by a Matt Bryant field goal from 23 yards out.
However the hosts hit back with 13 unanswered points in the second, a pair of Garrett Hartley field goals sandwiching the record-breaking touchdown for Colston.
The lead changed hands again when Ryan hit Julio Jones from four yards out to cap a five-play, 59-yard drive after half time, but that would be the final time the Falcons found themselves in front.
Brees' seven-yard strike to tight end Graham had the Saints ahead and they added to their lead when Hartley kicked his third field goal of the day, this one from 22 yards out.