The Indianapolis defense just wanted a fresh start in 2007.
The Colts did far better than that.
A year after becoming the butt of league-wide jokes, Indy's rebuilt defense was dominant Monday night in the NFL season opener, even outscoring last year's top-ranked offense in a 41-10 rout of New Orleans.
"Who cares if they were the No. — offense, this is a new year," former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders said of the Saints. "That's what we've been saying all along. This is a new defense, a new offense and we did what we had to do. We played physical, smart and fast."
Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning and his teammates looked like they were in championship form &
thanks in large part to the good field position and scoring opportunities the defense provided.
Manning finished 18-of-30 for 288 yards with three touchdowns, and Joseph Addai carried 23 times for 118 yards and a TD. Pro Bowl receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison combined for 11 catches, 198 yards and three TDs &
all against Jason David, the former Colts cornerback who left the champions as a restricted free agent in April.
"It was just another day at the office," Wayne said. "I gave him (David) a free touchdown, so I guess that was the appreciation we gave him."
New Orleans (0-1) managed only 293 yards in offense and one field goal. The other score came on David's nifty 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
"You couldn't hold the ball against them," Deuce McAllister said after running 10 times for 38 yards. "There are not a lot of Dwight Freeneys or Robert Mathises on other teams that pressure you like that."
And New Orleans stumbled all night.
Most expected the Colts' defense to be the greatest obstacle to a repeat as Super Bowl champs, especially after losing four starters from a unit that was the league's worst against the run in 2006.
That certainly wasn't the case on opening night.
With Super Bowl towels and a championship banner waving above the field, the Colts (1-0) showed they are every bit as dominant as last year.
They played fast, aggressive and opportunistic football as they made Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' vaunted running tandem of McAllister and Reggie Bush look ordinary.
Freeney, Mathis and their counterparts also managed to keep the Colts close in the first half when the offense staggered. They allowed New Orleans to run only one play in Indy territory during nearly two full quarters, starting midway through the second quarter.
Brees, last year's Pro Bowl starter for the NFC, was 28-of-41 for 192 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bush, expected to become more of a focal point of the Saints' offense in his second season, carried 12 times for 38 yards and caught four passes for seven yards.
The lethargic performance was confounding, even to the Saints.
"I think disappointing is more the word for it," coach Sean Payton said. "Offensively, we struggled in a lot of areas in the first half and that carried over to the second half."
For a while, though, New Orleans had the upper hand.
David's fumble return tied the game at 7, and Olindo Mare's 34-yard field goal midway through the second quarter gave the Saints a 10-7 lead.
But the masterful Manning changed everything.
He led the Colts on five straight scoring drives, starting with one that set up Adam Vinatieri's game-tying field goal with 45 seconds left in the half.
The Saints looked befuddled the rest of the way.
Addai gave the Colts a 17-10 lead with his 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter, and Wayne expanded the margin when he made up for his first-half fumble with a 28-yard touchdown reception three minutes later.
Indianapolis was only getting started.
Linebacker Freddy Keiaho, one of the new starters who played all but one series despite an injured right arm, intercepted Brees to set up Vinatieri's second field goal, a 33-yarder, that made it 27-10. Wayne kept it going with a 45-yard TD reception to give Indy an insurmountable 34-10 lead with 10:05 to go.
"You saw a flash of what we were capable of in the first half, but Peyton Manning knows all the connections," Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie said. "The big plays were what beat us. It was poor technique on our part. It was a collective effort on our part."
But the defense that gave up a league-worst 173 yards per game during the regular season last year continued to pressure the Saints.
Brees was picked off again in the closing minutes by backup safety Matt Giordano, who ran it back 83 yards for the game's final score.
It seemed a fitting tribute on a night that the defense defied the doubters.
The trick now is to keep playing that way.
"We're not surprised by it because the guys we recruit are fast guys, smart guys and physical guys," Sanders said. "What we have to do now is keep getting better each week." Notes:
Manning is 8-2 in season-openers, and the league's most proficient early-season team improved its September record to an NFL best 15-2 under coach Tony Dungy. ... Harrison's 83 yards gave him 13,780 for his career, moving him past Henry Ellard for fifth place in NFL career yardage. ... McAllister had 38 or fewer yards only twice last season despite alternating at running back with Bush. ... Manning has a career-best 164 passes without an interception, dating to last season.
Colts defense dominates Saints