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Undefeated Saints Make Noise With a 23-3 Victory

September 26, 2006|From the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — In an earsplitting return to their rebuilt stadium, the New Orleans Saints gave the Big Easy something to cheer about: an undefeated football team that made it look easy with a 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

After a Super Bowl-like pregame show that included a performance by U2 and Green Day, the Saints wasted no time turning their welcome-home party into Mardi Gras: The Falcons' first drive stalled, and special teams demon Steve Gleason sliced through the middle of the Atlanta line to smother Michael Koenen's punt.

The ball skidded across the goal line, where Curtis Deloatch fell on it for a touchdown -- the first given up by the Falcons this season. Only 1 1/2 minutes into a homecoming that was more than a year in the making, the Saints sent an emphatic message to the NFL and the country.

New Orleans is back.

The Saints (3-0) poured it on against the Falcons (2-1), who fell behind, 14-3, in the first quarter and never recovered. Devery Henderson scored New Orleans' second touchdown on an 11-yard double-reverse, taking a handoff from Reggie Bush and cutting inside the pylon with help from a gutsy block by quarterback Drew Brees.

John Carney kicked two field goals in the second quarter, including a 51-yarder that cleared the crossbar as time ran out. The Saints trotted to the locker room with a 20-3 lead and a rousing ovation ringing in their ears. The Falcons straggled off in the opposite direction, as if they already knew this wasn't going to be their night.

"As tough as it is to lose a game, I'd be lying if I said there isn't a little, little, little piece of me that didn't appreciate what this game meant to this city," said Falcons Coach Jim Mora, whose father is the winningest coach in Saints history. "It meant a lot."

The Saints dominated on special teams -- also blocking a short field-goal attempt by 46-year-old Morten Andersen -- and shut down Atlanta's running game.

The Falcons, coming off a franchise-record 306 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay, managed only 117 yards rushing on the inspired Saints. Michael Vick struggled, completing 12 of 31 passes for 137 yards.

Any hope of an Atlanta comeback was all but snuffed out on the first possession of the second half. New Orleans took the kickoff and drove 73 yards in 12 plays, burning more than 7 1/2 minutes off the clock before settling for Carney's third field goal from 20 yards.

About the only thing that didn't go right for New Orleans was a first touchdown for Bush. Still, "Saint Reggie" gave the fans several chances to cheer for their rookie sensation, rushing for 53 yards and catching four passes for 19 yards.

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