ATLANTA (WLOX) - In the first half, the new guys created plays.
With the Saints leading 6-0 after a pair of field goals from Shayne Graham, free-agent acquisition Jairus Byrd forced a fumble from Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who seemed destined for a touchdown in the first quarter before Byrd cut him down inside the Saints' 10-yard line.
Corey White recovered the loose football in the endzone and Khiry Robinson scored the Saints' first touchdown of the season from two yards out in the second quarter on the ensuing possession to make it a 13-0 advantage for New Orleans.
Robinson's touchdown was one of three that the Saints recorded via the ground. Mark Ingram, who led the team with 60 yards on 13 carries, had the other two rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:20 left in the game.
Offensively, Brandin Cooks had 48 receiving yards on his first NFL drive. The rookie out of Oregon State finished the game with seven catches for 77 yards, including a touchdown at the end of the first half.
"I thought he made enough plays and I thought he looked sharp," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "I thought he made good plays in space, hung onto the football and the thing with him is that he's prepared. You guys have seen him in practice and he looks very comfortable in those spots."
The Saints put themselves in close situations all night. With New Orleans at the Atlanta 14-yard line leading 20-17 in the third quarter, Drew Brees threw an interception on a third down that not only cost the Saints at least a field goal opportunity, but it preceded a 54-yard touchdown pass from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Atlanta running back Antone Smith caught the pass from Ryan five yards in front of the line of scrimmage, moved swiftly toward the far sideline and sprinted past four Saints defenders to give the Falcons a lead for the first time.
Ryan completed 31-of-43 passes for 448 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The 448 passing yards allowed by the Saints was the second-highest game total in team history (Jim Everett, 454).
"I'd say the most glaring statistic, and what cost us the game, was the turnover ratio," Brees said. "We got one, we gave two. Both of those obviously were where points were at stake. My interception down in the red zone [cost us] points."
Brees completed 29-of-42 passes for 333 yards, one touchdown and that interception.
Saints defensive end Tyrunn Walker recorded the only sack in the game. The New Orleans pass rush was actually able to force Ryan to scramble out of the pocket numerous times, but with the exception of that one sack, Ryan was able to maneuver away from the Saints defense.
Overall, tackling was an issue for the Saints. After Ingram's first touchdown gave the Saints a 27-24 lead with 8:46 left in the fourth quarter, Atlanta running back and Oregon State grad Jacquizz Rodgers reeled off a highlight-reel, 17-yard touchdown run to regain the lead for the Falcons.
Rodgers spinned away from Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro before juking around defensive end Cam Jordan on his way to the endzone.
With Atlanta leading 31-27 and 2:43 left on the clock, the Saints received the ball back and reeled off an 8-play, 71-yard drive in 1:30 that was capped off by Ingram's second touchdown of the game.
After his 3-yard scoring scamper gave the Saints a 34-31 lead, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant eventually converted a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
In overtime, the Saints won the toss and received the ball first. A touchdown on that opening drive could've ended the game, but Atlanta linebacker Joplo Bartu recovered a fumble by New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston at the Saints' 38-yard line.
Colston finished the game with five receptions and a team-high 110 yards but his turnover led to Bryant kicking a 52-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 37-34 win.
"The smallest details, especially when you're in overtime, just magnifies any little mistake," Payton said. "I thought we played hard but it still wasn't good enough. Credit Atlanta. They did a good job. It's a tough way to start but we'll bounce back."
Jimmy Graham had 82 receiving yards on a team-high eight receptions, while Pierre Thomas contributed with six catches for 58 yards.