for this game

Saints return to Superdome, beat Falcons

Sep 26, 2006 - 4:09 AM NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- On the night they marched back into the Louisiana Superdome, the New Orleans Saints knew they were back home.

In their emotional return to the site that was one of the focal points of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints posted an emotional 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Just over a year ago, the Saints were forced from their home by the deadliest storm in American history that left the Gulf Coast region in ruin.

The Saints played four home games at Louisiana State and three in San Antonio last season. One other "home" game was played at Giants Stadium.

Monday's return to the Superdome for the Saints served as a symbol of the region's resolve and determination for a massive rebuilding project that still is ongoing.

"There's still a lot of work to be done, but this night belongs to the city," Saints first-year coach Sean Payton said. "We gave the game ball to the city of New Orleans. Our fans were something else. They were strong. Fans will go to work tomorrow with a little bit of a swagger."

Following an emotional pregame ceremony, the Saints sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy just 90 seconds into the game when Steve Gleason blocked a punt and Curtis Deloatch recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

"Last year was total agony," Gleason said. "This was infinite joy. That block was all about just believing it could happen."

Fans also got to celebrate the Superdome debut of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush, the second pick in April's draft. He carried 13 times for 53 yards and had four catches for 19 yards.

About the only thing missing for the Saints were their traditional black and gold jerseys.

On the field and in the standings, one thing that is not missing is that the improved Saints (3-0) are in first place in the NFC South. New Orleans already has matched its win total from last season.

"We said the only way the Saints were going to make this truly special was to win the game," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "That's what the fans deserved. That's what this whole city and region deserved. We owed it to them to get it done."

The Saints made it three straight wins to start a season for the first time since 2002 thanks to a defense that suffocated the electrifying Michael Vick, an efficient offense and a huge performance by their special teams. They even used a bit of trickery.

With under three minutes left in the first quarter, Devery Henderson ran 11 yards for a touchdown off a double reverse to give the Saints a 14-3 lead.

"We call that the Superdome Special," Payton said. "We put in that play this week. There was no way that play wasn't going to score a touchdown."

John Carney kicked field goals of 37 and 51 yards in the second quarter to increase the Saints' advantage to 20-3. He added a 20-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.

Gleason's blocked punt was not the only block in the first half for the Saints. Josh Bullocks blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt by 46-year-old Morten Andersen in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Saints were able to shut down the Falcons (2-1), who entered the contest averaging a league-best 279.0 rushing yards per game. Atlanta rushed for 117 yards.

New Orleans held Warrick Dunn to 44 yards on 13 attempts and Vick gained 57 - many of his yards coming in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Dunn rushed for 266 yards and Vick amassed 175 on the ground in the first two games.

Vick, who was sacked five times, completed 12-of-31 passes for 137 yards.

"It was definitely the loudest crowd I ever played in front of," Vick said. "They were fired up ... both the fans and the Saints. I'm disappointed because we couldn't get anything going."

Brees also enjoyed a successful home debut with the Saints. The first major free agent to sign with the club in the offseason, Brees went 20-of-28 for 191 yards without a turnover.

Brees' favorite target was seventh-round pick Marques Colston, who had seven catches for 97 yards.

Deuce McAllister contributed 81 yards rushing for the Saints, who held a 326-229 advantage in total yards.

Andersen accounted for the Falcons' only points with a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter. Atlanta, which produced 70 points in a two-game sweep of New Orleans last season, scored its fewest points against the Saints since a 38-0 loss in 1987.

"I'm concerned about everything right now," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "We made it way too easy for the Saints. They played extremely well. We did not play very well."

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