NEW ORLEANS — Here are five things we learned as New Orleans got the early jump on the NFC South race at the expense of the defending division champion Falcons.
1. PAYTON'S PLACE: The Superdome has simply become a tough place for Atlanta to play during the Payton era, including last season, when the head coach was banned from the building. Since Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006, the Falcons have fallen in seven of eight games in the Big Easy. The only victory came in overtime in 2010. Last season, Atlanta's chance for a late go-ahead score evaporated when Jabari Greer broke up Ryan's fourth-and-goal pass for Roddy White. This year's victory, Brees noted, "was very reminiscent of last year, with the same result."
2. POROUS PROTECTION: The preseason raised questions about Atlanta's offensive line, and rightly so. The Saints were able to pressure Ryan routinely with a four-man rush, which made it easier cover Ryan receivers. In addition to sacking Ryan three times, the Saints hurried him on many more plays, resulting in everything from an intentional grounding penalty to a throw-away on third-and-goal. Atlanta has only two of five linemen starting in the same spot as last season.
"We have to protect the quarterback a lot better," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.
3. IN SYNC: As far as Saints defensive captain and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton can tell, he and his defensive teammates are far more comfortable in Ryan's new 3-4 scheme than they were in Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 front a year ago.
"I can definitely feel the difference just in the fact that we were confident," Lofton said. "We can go out there and everyone was sure of what they had to do and they did it."
The Saints gave up 367 total net yards to Atlanta on Sunday. Last season, New Orleans' defense gave up an average of 440 yards.
"Everything that was said about this defense in the offseason — we rose to the occasion," Lofton said.