Metairie, La. - Sunday marked an eventful gameday for the Saints as they honored Steve Gleason before the game, defeated the Falcons in dramatic fashion, and learned afterward that they were in first place in the division.
The following are coach Sean Payton's thoughts on the season opener, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
Opening Statement: "We just finished meeting with the team and went through this game. Players will be in meetings here for the next two and a half hours. I said this yesterday, I thought it was a big win for us yesterday. Any time in week one you start off with a home game against a divisional opponent, it obviously carries a lot of importance. I think there are a lot of things that we are going to have a chance to clean up when the players watch this tape. One thing always about your first game is, it's the first time a player goes from 20 snaps maybe to 40 or plus snaps. You deal with some fatigue and you deal with some cramping. You deal with that transition into the regular season. I thought overall we handled that pretty well and yet there are a lot of little things and a lot of big things that we have to be better at."
Can you talk about how your pressure came from the same four guys every time?
"Yes, that was the plan going in. I think that anytime you can have and create pressure with a four man surface (pass rush) it certainly benefits you because you are covered in the back end and we will do that in this game. It was part of the plan going in."
Malcolm Jenkins said that you guys watched a lot of film on Matt Ryan's tendencies when a team blitzed him and would send an extra man and how he would always find an open receiver, can you talk about that?
"He is a smart quarterback and so it's hard to just stay in one look versus any of these quarterbacks that are experienced and as talented as he is. You are wanting to change the looks up. I think if they get a steady dose of one thing, they will have an area or idea of where you are weak, and certainly he is one of those players. And he has enough weapons (on the) outside that if he feels like he is getting pressure and a single coverage, generally with each pass play you know exactly where you are going with the football so we try to mix things up and not provide with a constant or same look. Fortunately, our guys handled that aspect well, and back with what you mentioned in the beginning, the four guys rushing were able to disrupt him enough."
Are you happy with the new guys making an impression in the first game?
"We have a lot of young players. A lot of young guys in week one that you don't know a whole lot about other than what you see in the preseason, but aside from guys playing on defense or on offense, you talk about Kenny Vaccaro, John Jenkins. Even the receivers, Nick Toon being someone although he is in his second year, he is really in his first year healthy and playing. A guy like Josh Hill stood out and played especially well on special teams as a backup tight end. We are going to count on those guys and quickly they are going to get up to speed and look to improve each week."
Can you talk about your dedication to the run game?
"Yes, look there are some frustrating snaps that we are going to look at here this afternoon and there are some snaps where we are close and yet it takes all 11 guys. We were wanting to control the time of possession. I thought it was mostly significant in the fourth quarter. I thought we possessed the ball quite a bit. We had one series in the second half backed up, down to our three and I thought although it didn't result in any points, that series was significant in that it changed the field position back in our favor. And then the final drive that led to a field goal took a lot of time off the clock. We will continue to work on that element, it needs to be better. We were close in some areas and yet we still have to work on and clean up a number of things to improve it."
What was the emotion like for you during the Steve Gleason pregame chant?
"There was kind of a lump in the throat with Steve. He is a guy that has been so close to this program and epitomizes, when we came in 2006, of a player that worked extremely close and was very dedicated. So, to be out there and enjoy that with him was special. I saw him afterwards and he shot me that text and the computer voice came on and said, 'you almost dislocated my shoulder.' That's just him. He hasn't lost a bit at all. His mental focus and all of that is in great shape. It was pretty emotional just being with him."
Did you consider, on that short yardage play, a sneak?
"No, two things went through my mind. There were two or three plays that I looked at and it is always this way, the other play I was considering, I'm frustrated I didn't run. They made a good stop. We didn't get the yard that we needed. At times we will run a sneak, but I didn't in that situation."
Can you talk about how Kenny Vaccaro handled going up against Tony Gonzales?
"I thought Kenny played well. I thought he played physical. We asked him on a number of snaps to be on Gonzalez. He spent a lot of time studying the tape and understood the strengths and weaknesses. A guy like that is a veteran player, but I thought he handled that matchup well. I said this way back at the beginning of training camp: he is a player, Kenny now, that is a little more wiser or a little bit more savvy than a lot of rookies in that he is very experienced. He studies hard, but (he) is someone who knows the game well. It was a good start for him."
Can you reflect on Marques Colston's record-breaking tenure here in New Orleans?
"It's hard to believe that it's been eight years, but consistent is a great way to start. He's been very consistent. He's a big target with strong hands, week in and week out. Number one, he's very intelligent. He can play the split end or X position, but he comes inside and plays the slot, the Y, the F. He knows most of all the positions. He's a task master in that somebody who will work very hard at his game, specifically on the individual routes. He's big inside; I know Drew (Brees) has a lot of confidence in him. We are proud for him. Something like that is a great accomplishment, especially in eight years."
Can you get a sense of what yesterday meant to Keenan Lewis, helping them beat Atlanta in his hometown of New Orleans?
"I asked him earlier in the week, 'Is this going to be a big ticket week for you?' There's a saying that once is forever. Once there is twenty-eight tickets in week one, then there's probably going to be twenty-eight tickets for every home game. He told me he was limiting it to six or eight. But I think, more than anything else, being part of a win, and he's a veteran player, I'm sure it carries some special meaning. But he's going to play at home here a lot now, and so I thought he handled all of that very well."
Last night Tony Dungy said that he thought your team as the most impressive of all the teams he saw on Sunday. He said he feels that you brought a swagger back. How much of that is real and how much is just rhetoric, given the fact that every team is so close in this league?
"That's a term that maybe is overused sometimes. In our league the confidence and swagger, if you will, comes from being successful. It goes away quickly if you're not successful. It was an important win for us. It was good to see our defense come up with not only a stop at the end of the game, but a good plan against a real good offense. It's week to week. It's very short-lived, it can be. I appreciate Tony's comments, and yet if he saw the tape that I saw, he would recognize that there are a lot of things that we can improve on."
Do you think you team's resilience late in the game had any correlation with what you preached through the offseason with conditioning and mental toughness?
"We would like to think so. We focused on it and talked about it, and yet the first game back was tiresome for some players just because the reps had really changed. But, we felt like that was an important part of our preparation coming into the season. In the offseason, I said this, that our players were really committed to the offseason program- the weight part of it, the strength part of it. Dan (Dalrymple) and his crew did a great job and the conditioning element was tougher. There's always that fine line of just making sure you're not doing too much where there's fatigue. But I thought we handled, overall, that yesterday pretty well. We will get a good test here this week going on the road in a place that at this time of the year can be pretty hot."
Were there any individual performers or some type of scheme that you thought worked very well against Roddy White and Julio Jones? They didn't make a huge impact in that game.
"Yes, when you first start with the idea or decision that you're going to rush four, then you're going to commit a little bit more maybe to the back end. Our guys did a pretty good job with some doubles and singles, depending on the formation. Both of those players that you mention are exceptional talents that at any time can turn a game around. There was some pressure on the back end to understand formation, recognition, and then who we were wanting to get safety help on and then maybe who might have the single (coverage). So that may vary by formation, it could vary by set, but I thought overall that that was something that helped us. (Harry) Douglas had a few big plays. The one thing that we will try to work closely on getting corrected is that we gave up some chunks. I think those things can be corrected and need to be."
How did it feel for you to be back on the sideline in a regular season game?