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Originally published September 8, 2013 at 8:55 PM | Page modified September 8, 2013 at 8:56 PM

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Saints open with 23-17 victory in Sean Payton’s return

The Associated Press

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NEW ORLEANS — Sean Payton’s return to the sideline is one game old and already the Saints are celebrating a dramatic victory over a presumed title contender.

They’re alone in first place, too.

Drew Brees passed for 357 yards and two scores, Roman Harper intercepted Matt Ryan’s tipped fourth-down pass in the end zone, and New Orleans held on for a 23-17 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.

“I was hoping our defense would pull one out, and man, did they ever,” Brees said.

Last season, while suspended in connection with the NFL’s bounty probe, Payton watched helplessly from afar as the Saints fielded one of the worst defenses ever, yielding a single-season record 7,042 yards. One of his first moves upon reinstatement was to hire Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.

Payton put the new product on the field right away, electing to kick off when the Saints won the coin toss.

“Sean sent the defense out first, which you would never have seen in the past,” Harper said. “So just a whole different feel and the things that we’re trying to accomplish, this is just one step in the right direction.”

notes

• New season, new receivers, familiar finish for Tom Brady, who looked like his old self in the clutch.

Whatever chemistry Brady still lacks within the Patriots new-look offense, the quarterback overcame by rallying New England to a 23-21 season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Brady marched New England 49 yards in 12 plays to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.

“I didn’t have a lot of doubt,” Brady said, referring to the final drive, which began at the Patriots 34 with 4:31 remaining. “We’ve got a team full of fighters. There’s going to be some ugly wins, but we’re always going to fight until the end.”

• Andrew Luck used his feet to help Indianapolis win its opener. After throwing for 178 yards and two touchdowns, Indy’s second-year quarterback took off and scored on a 19-yard TD run with 5:20 to play to beat Oakland 21-17.

‘’I went through my reads. As you’re sort of stepping up you sort of realize, ‘Hey man, there’s no one here,’ ” Luck said. ‘’That decision is like ‘OK, I can make the first down.’ Then you start running and it’s ‘OK, let’s go for the end zone.’ ’’

• Colts receiver Reggie Wayne passed Seahawk Steve Largent for No. 13 on the NFL’s career list for yards receiving. Wayne has 13,159. Largent had 13,089.

• A fan fell to his death at Candlestick Park during the Packers-49ers game, and two more were injured in a fall at the Raiders-Colts game.

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