NEW ORLEANS, LA (WLOX) - In a rivalry that continues to grow stronger with each matchup that takes place, the New Orleans Saints' 31-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons should be bookmarked as one of the most memorable ones played so far.
The Saints were 3.5-point underdogs going into Thursday's game not only because they had just one win in their first five games, but because the NFC South Division leading Falcons were sporting a 5-0 record.
In 2012, Atlanta was undefeated through eight games but suffered its first loss, 31-27, against a New Orleans team that featured a 3-4 record at the time.
In 2006, Steve Gleason blocked a punt against the Falcons in the Saints' first game in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. That play resulted in six points and an eventual 23-3 win for New Orleans.
While those instances in the past weren't parallel to Thursday's performance, they were eerily similar. The Saints again gave the Falcons their first loss of the year, and New Orleans-area native Michael Mauti blocked a punt and then recovered it in the endzone for a touchdown.
"I was in the stands when Gleason blocked that punt against Atlanta coming back to the dome," Mauti said. "It was a special feeling that I've been dreaming about since I was sitting in that seat up there. To live that out is something special so I'll enjoy it."
"There's some significance in that because that happened against Atlanta [in 2006]," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "That was an important play because it was early in the game."
Mauti's effort led to the Saints leading 14-0 after one quarter and 14-7 at halftime.
"It was awesome. I mean it was obviously a huge play in the game that gave us a two-possession lead," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose first game in a Saints uniform was that famous Falcons-Saints matchup in 2006. "The whole stadium erupted and the cool thing was that Steve [Gleason] was here to see that. That brought back some good memories."
Four days after turning over the ball four times to the Philadelphia Eagles in a 39-17 loss, the Saints had zero giveaways against a Falcons team that entered the game ranked in the top five of the NFL in takeaways.
Brees completed 30 of 39 passes, including 10 of those to Benjamin Watson, who set a career-high with 127 yards receiving and added a touchdown catch.
"It's great to win at home and see the fans enjoy themselves," Watson said. "People [were] dancing and having something to cheer about with their team winning especially against a good team in a rivalry game. It's very exciting for us."
"For it all to come together like that just gives us a glimpse of what we can be and all that hard work and trust in one another," Brees said. "All that hard work is starting to pay off."
The Saints defense also had five sacks, which is the highest total since 2008. Cam Jordan had three of those sacks, while Hau'oli Kikaha and Kasim Edebali had the others.
Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was acquired in a trade that sent Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins, finished the game with a game-high 14 tackles -- 10 in the first half.
New Orleans has 10 days to prepare for its game in Indianapolis against the Colts.