ATLANTA — Saints wide receiver Marques Colston fixated his eyes on the ground and his traveling bag as he packed his belongings in the visitors’ locker room of the Georgia Dome.
Two sets of reporters approached the veteran in an effort to see what Colston might say about a nightmare sequence — one in which he dropped a pass and lost a fumble in back-to-back plays in overtime of a 37-34 loss for the Saints (0-1) to the Atlanta Falcons (1-0). Matt Bryant kicked a 52-yard field goal three plays after Atlanta linebacker Joplo Bartu recovered Colston’s fumble.
But Colston politely declined to speak with the first group of journalists. He soon silently walked away from a second one and headed out of view.
Less reluctant to talk about the Saints’ final gut-wrenching possession were some of the colleagues he’s known since arriving in New Orleans as a seventh-round draft choice. And to a man, they refused to let anyone suggest Colston was at fault for the outcome of a disappointing season opener.
“He’s won a lot of games for us,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “And when you get in overtime, it can appear to be one play, but there are a series of plays throughout the course of a game.”
Colston has indeed helped the Saints win numerous games — not to mention Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 campaign. He headed into the trip to Atlanta on Sunday as the franchise leader in receptions (607), receiving yards (8,337) and receiving touchdowns (63).
He added five grabs for 110 yards against Atlanta. One of his catches resulted in a 57-yard gain on what was the longest play from scrimmage Sunday.
Colston caught passes on drives that netted the Saints a field goal and a pair of touchdowns. On one of the touchdown drives, he earned a 24-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Robert Alford, an ex-standout at Southeastern Louisiana.
Which is to say he nearly contributed to another Saints victory over the Falcons, who were 3-13 against New Orleans since 2006. But the Saints let Atlanta gain a staggering 568 yards of offense, the second highest amount the Saints have permitted in franchise history. That was also a Falcons record.
They couldn’t stop Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan from setting a franchise record with 448 passing yards. He also threw three touchdowns and was sacked only once.
Meanwhile, the Saints settled for field goals on their first two possessions. Drew Brees threw an interception in the end zone, depriving the Saints of an opportunity to at least kick for three points.
All of which were reasons why the Saints went into an extra period Sunday. That’s when Colston dropped a short pass on first-and-10 from New Orleans’ 20.
He promptly caught a second-and-10 throw from Brees over the middle, gained 13 yards — and was stripped by Falcons safety William Moore. The Falcons vanquished their NFC South rivals fewer than two minutes later.
Colston — who’s lost 10 fumbles in his career, including two in playoff games — takes such mishaps hard. For example, in the Saints’ year-ending postseason defeat at Seattle in January, he threw an illegal forward pass on a desperation play at the conclusion of the contest.
He subsequently marched off the field and squarely punched a wall at CenturyLink Field with a fist, Payton recounted during the preseason.
On Sunday, he slammed his helmet into the turf of the Georgia Dome with two hands.
“He’s the mentally toughest player. Marques will take it personal,” right tackle Zach Strief said.
But no one with the Saints pinned the defeat on Colston.
“As an offense, we can score one more time — or instead of kicking one of those field goals, finish (with a touchdown),” said rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who caught Brees’ TD pass and was the target on the quarterback’s interception. “That’s what this game is about. If we finish a couple of those drives like we were supposed to, we wouldn’t be in that position. So you can’t put that on (Colston) at all.”