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Saints' defense comes up big as Falcons' offense stalls

Sunday's grudge match between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons was expected to be the highest-scoring game of the week, billed as a potential shootout. Instead, it was Rob Ryan's revamped Saints defense that came through with the game on the line.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons from Week 1 on Tuesday, Sept. 10
at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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With the Falcons at New Orleans' 3-yard line and less than a minute left, Saints safety Roman Harper picked off Matt Ryan's potential game-winning pass in the end zone after the ball was tipped -- sealing the victory.

That play capped off an impressive second-half performance as the Saints' pass rush overwhelmed a shaky Falcons offensive line for a 23-17 victory. In addition to the interception, New Orleans' defense came through with three sacks and two forced fumbles, holding Atlanta's offense to nine points below its 2012 average.

Although the game was close enough that either team could have won, coach Mike Smith's Falcons have more immediate concerns than their counterparts in the Big Easy.

The aforementioned pass-protection issues extended beyond the first-year starters to established left tackle Sam Baker. Another problem for the Falcons' aerial attack was Roddy White's ankle sprain, which prevented the receiver from pushing off throughout the game. White essentially was a non-factor, taking a backseat to Harry Douglas.

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers also suffering last-minute disappointments, the Saints are in the NFC South's pole position entering Week 2.

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