METAIRIE, La. -- After reviewing one of the ugliest, lowest-scoring victories in his four-plus seasons as a head coach, Sean Payton decided he liked what he saw.
"You go back to finding ways to win," Payton said Friday, after breaking down video of the Saints' season-opening 14-9 win over Minnesota a night earlier. "It's pleasing when you can win a game like that and finish the way we did. ... We have a lot of respect for that opponent. That's a team that's going to factor in here this year."
New Orleans made its share of mistakes. There were dropped passes -- including one by Robert Meachem in the end zone -- and two missed field goals which cost the defending Super Bowl champions a larger victory margin.
Yet Payton and his players expressed satisfaction at how clean of a game the Saints played in some fundamental areas such as blocking, tackling and ball security.
Brees was sacked only once by what is widely regarded as one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league; Minnesota's 48 sacks led the NFL in 2009. The lone sack Thursday night came on a blitz in which Payton said Brees made a conservative decision to secure the ball before being brought down, rather than trying to get rid of it as Brett Favre did on his interception.
The run blocking was exceptional when it had to be, particularly on the Saints' first and last drives of the second half. The Saints ran eight times, including on Pierre Thomas' short TD plunge, on an 11-play, 74-yard drive early in the third quarter to take the lead for good.
Then there was the ball control the Saints displayed on a drive that produced no points but which sealed the win by chewing up the final 5:32 on the clock.
Pierre Thomas rushed five times on that 11-play drive, including a 10-yard, first-down run just after the 2-minute warning that allowed New Orleans to kneel on the ball for the final three plays.
"If we're in that situation, a (five-minute) situation where we can finish the game with the ball in our hands, taking a knee, we have to take pride in that," Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "To get the job done against a team like Minnesota and still get pretty good chunks when they know we're running the ball I think is a testament to the commitment we had to that situation."
The Saints finished with 308 total yards, which is low by the standards of a Sean Payton-designed offense that led the NFL last season with an average of 403.8 yards per game. Still, Brees completed 75 percent of his passes (27 of 36) despite some drops.
"He was sharp," Payton said of his quarterback. "There were a few opportunities where you'd normally expect them to make that catch, and Drew does a good job with some of those throws. That's another area that we'll continue to get better at. We have a lot of confidence in that group of receivers."
"If you turn the ball over and start going down that route, you know that's going to come back and bite you," Stinchcomb said. "If you fight and claw against a quality opponent and you don't turn the ball over and you manage a football game, that's a lot of positive points to work from."
Defensively, the Saints turned in one of their finest performances in years, holding an offense led by Favre and Adrian Peterson to two first downs, 65 total yards and no points in the entire second half.
"We tackled better than we had in a long time," Payton said. "There wasn't a lot of hidden yardage after contact, which was encouraging."
Notes: Payton offered a vote of confidence to kicker Garrett Hartley, who missed field goals of 46 and 32 yards Thursday night. "You know you have the right guy because you know you have the right leg talent and you also know you have a guy who has put you in the Super Bowl and then set a Super Bowl record (with three field goals of more than 40 yards)," Payton said. "This guy's kicked in some big spots for us, needless to say. It's something we'll get back to work on. He'll handle this challenge." ... Payton said the only injury from the game was reserve linebacker Anthony Waters' sore hamstring. ... Payton gave the Saints a long weekend off before they return next Tuesday to prepared for their next game at San Francisco on Monday night, Sept. 20.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press