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The top 10 games in Saints history - #1

The Saints return to the Superdome and bring life back to New Orleans

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints - September 25, 2006 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

#1 - 2006 Week 3 (MNF): Saints - 23 vs. Falcons - 3

There have been times throughout history when sporting events transcend the sport itself and impact the nation or a certain city beyond what happened on the field. Think of the Miracle on Ice, or the Yankees first game in New York after 9/11. The New Orleans Saints Week 3 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football was more than just a game, it was a statement to the country that the city of New Orleans was back from the darkest of places, and they weren’t just back as a shell of themselves, they were stronger than ever.

The 2006 Saints saw the notable arrival of a new head coach and quarterback. Sean Payton was hired from the Dallas Cowboys where he had guided three different quarterbacks in a row to 3,000 yard seasons, and Drew Brees was signed after negotiations with Miami fell through due to questions about his health. The Saints had gone 3-13 the year before, and held the #2 pick in the draft which they used to select running back Reggie Bush, perhaps the most electric college football player of all time who would be joining Pro Bowler Deuce McAllister in the backfield. Bush would be joined in the rookie class by players such as Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, and the fourth to last pick in the draft Marques Colston. Collectively this class would produce three All-Rookie team members, six All-Pro seasons, eight Pro Bowls, a member of the 2010s All-Decade team, four members of the Saints Hall of Fame, the franchises all-time leader in receiving yards and games played by an offensive guard, and four starters on the eventual Super Bowl winning team.

Joining Brees in the free agent class was little known defensive back Curtis Deloatch who had just been waived by the Giants despite playing in all 32 games the past two seasons even though he was an undrafted rookie.

With a new offense in place led by a Pro Bowl quarterback and a young head coach who had spent years learning under Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, the Saints had high hopes to rebound from perhaps the worst year in franchise history in 2005, and headed into the Monday night matchup with the hated Atlanta Falcons those hopes were looking like they were paying off.

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints - September 25, 2006
Regular season football returned to the Superdome for the first time in 21 months
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Saints entered the game 2-0 for just the fifth time in the 40-year history of the team following a win over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Atlanta Falcons also sported a 2-0 record, and featured the most exciting QB in the league in Michael Vick. They had just swept the Saints the year before, and had already beaten the Panthers and Buccaneers in Weeks 1 and 2 as they were looking to take an early stranglehold over the NFC South.

The Saints 2-0 start was cause for good vibes at the Saints home opener in Week 3, but the fact that the Saints were having a home opener at all seemed like a small miracle. The Saints had not played a game in the Superdome since August 26, 2005, as the were forced to leave the city due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The team split time between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Death Valley in Baton Rouge, as the damage to the Superdome following the hurricane was far too great to be able to safely host an NFL game. Couple the displacement with legitimate talks of permanent relocation to San Antonio if the Superdome could not be repaired with the devastation wrote by the hurricane, and you had arguably the worst year in New Orleans history since the entire city burned down in 1788. The intense flooding caused many of the city’s residents to seek refuge in the Superdome, now just over a year after the building sheltered victims of the hurricane and nearly collapsed under the strain of the storm, NFL football returned to the Dome.

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints - September 25, 2006
Free agent signing Scott Fujita’s sack of Michael Vick set up a Falcons punt on their opening drive of the game
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Saints grabbed the momentum early, as they forced the Falcons into a 3 and out on the opening drive. The ensuing punt would prove to be the play that signified the Saints return, as special teams ace Steve Gleason would block the Falcons punt which would be recovered in the end zone by Deloatch for an opening touchdown. Gleason was a 6-year veteran at the time, who had blocked at least one punt in three of the last four seasons. Like Deloatch, he was an undrafted defensive back who found his niche on special teams, and in one play, he was instantly immortalized in Saints history. From that point on, there was nothing the Falcons could do to possibly leave New Orleans with a win.

The Saints top ranked offense would score their first touchdown on a double reverse to receiver and Louisiana native Devery Henderson that was keyed by block from Drew Brees. This was the first time the Saints had scored two first quarter touchdowns at home since 1998. The Saints would jump out to a 17-3 lead when the special teams would show up again, as Josh Bullocks would block a 25 yard field goal by former Saints Morten Anderson, and later a 51-yard field goal by John Carney would give the Saints a 20-3 lead at halftime.

The second half would prove to be when the Saints defense would step up. They shutout Atlanta in the final two quarters, and would sack Michael Vick three more times, and would ice the game on a 4th down hold in Saints territory late in the fourth quarter. The Saints defense would sack the most elusive quarterback in the league five times, and hold the Falcons top ranked rushing offense to just 117 yards, 66 yards fewer than they would average for the entire season. The Saints win would put them at 3-0, equaling their win total from the previous season.

The Saints would end 2006 with a 10-6 record and a division championship while fielding the #1 offense in the NFL in the first year under Sean Payton. They would go further than they had ever been in the playoffs, making the teams first ever trip to the NFC Championship game. A team that had won just one playoff game in the previous 40 years, and did not have a home all of the prior season got to within one game of the Super Bowl. They would ultimately fall short, but would get back to the NFC Championship game and three years later and this time would finish the job, winning the first Super Bowl in team history.

The Super Bowl is of course the mountain top of the NFL, but the Saints journey to the pinnacle all started with a blocked punt on a September night in the Superdome.

Watch the full game here

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