Associated Press photo by DAVID GOLDMAN -- Saints quarterback Drew Brees walks across the field after the Saints lost 37-34 in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta.

1. What we learned

If the Saints are truly one of the NFL’s elite teams, they’re really going to have to prove it now. Despite two turnovers, New Orleans’ offense was typically potent with 34 points and 472 total yards. But the defense was hardly championship quality, allowing a whopping 568 total yards (8.2 yards per play), including a net 445 yards passing. Missed tackles abounded, and it was the Saints, not the mistake-prone Falcons, who made the most critical errors at the worst time with Colston’s fumble to set up the Falcons’ game-winning kick.

2. Trending now

Black and Gold Nation in meltdown. This has been called the best Saints team ever — on paper — and a Super Bowl contender for sure. But when you give up the second-most yards in franchise history, warning bells go off. Couple that with the fact the Saints stressed winning the turnover battle all preseason, only to lose that battle in what is likely to be the season’s most emotionally charged road game, it’s doubly discouraging. A huge bright spot was the play of rookie WR Brandin Cooks, who caught and ran for 95 yards on eight touches.

3. Final thoughts

It’s only one game, and it’s a long season, but this defeat was an emotional gut punch for the Saints. New Orleans can recover and improve, but after a solid preseason there are now legitimate questions about the defense heading into a game next week at Cleveland. The Saints were supposed to outclass the Browns, but Cleveland piled up 27 points and 389 yards in a loss at Pittsburgh. The Saints say they’ll shake off this defeat and learn from it, but what if they learned something they don’t want to know?