NEW ORLEANS — In their first game in the newly named Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints performed like a top-of-the-line model from the famed German automaker.
And the Saints made sure their first spin in it was a smooth ride.
Playing at home for the first time in a month, the Saints set numerous records in a 62-7 wipeout of the Indianapolis Colts — the team the Saints defeated in Super Bowl XLIV just 20? months ago.
The stakes weren’t quite that high this time around, but that wasn’t such a bad thing for the winless Colts (0-7).
The Saints (5-2) set numerous franchise records — including first downs, points and largest margin of victory in a game — which helped make up for a crushing 55-21 loss to the Colts in the same building back in 2003.
That night, Peyton Manning threw six touchdown passes to lead the rout of his hometown team. On Sunday night, Manning, who has been sidelined all season after having two surgeries on his neck, could only look on as Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 325 yards and five scores in less than three quarters of work.
“I’m sure (Mercedes-Benz) was pleased with the result of their first game,” a beaming Brees said in opening his postgame news conference.
Brees directed his team to eight straight scoring drives to start the game with six touchdowns and two field goals before being relieved by backup Chase Daniel with 32 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Daniel also led his team to a scoring drive on his first series as running back Darren Sproles’ 16-yard touchdown run with 12:26 remaining in the contest gave the Saints 55 points.
That broke the old club mark of 51 points set three times previously, most recently in a 51-29 drubbing of the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 24, 2008, in another prime-time game in the Superdome.
The Saints, who punted just once, finished Sunday night’s game with a season-high 557 total yards. They piled up 236 rushing yards — 59 more than in any other game this season — and had 321 passing yards.
They did all that with coach Sean Payton sitting in the coaches’ booth in the press box high atop the Superdome after suffering a torn meniscus and fractured left tibia a week earlier at Tampa Bay.
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. handled Payton’s usual play-calling duties and did quite well. Brees connected on 31 of 35 passes with five touchdowns — one off his personal record of six, which he had in a season-opening win over the Detroit Lions in 2009.
“No matter what happens, whatever we face, it’s next man up,” Brees said of Carmichael taking over for Payton. “Overall, it was a great execution of our game plan, both offensively and defensively.”
Payton said he awarded Carmichael the game ball after the lopsided victory.
“He’s completely in tune to what we’re doing and more than qualified to call an offensive game,” Payton said. “I’ll tell you what, that was a heck of a first one for him. I’m proud of him. … I’m proud of our players and coaches.”
The Saints also set club records in winning by 55 points, topping their 42-point margin in a shutout of the Denver Broncos in 1988, and had 36 first downs to better the franchise record of 32 that was set four other times.
After Sproles’ second score of the evening, the Saints defense got in on the fun. They tacked on one final touchdown when cornerback Leigh Torrence intercepted a Curtis Painter pass and raced 42 yards to the end zone with 12:12 to play.
The defense helped out long before Torrence’s interception return, setting the offense up with takeaways on two of the Colts’ first three possessions, which Brees and Company turned into touchdowns.
Brees started strong with touchdown passes of 14 and 4 yards to wide receiver Marques Colston, the first after middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma recovered a Painter fumble on their first series.
The second touchdown was set up when running back Pierre Thomas scooted 57 yards with a screen pass. And their third score, a 6-yard toss from Brees to Sproles with 42 seconds to play in the opening quarter, came after defensive end Cameron Jordan recovered a fumble by Colts running back Delone Carter at the Saints’ 48.
Before those two takeaways, the Saints’ defense had just four in their first six games, which ranked 30th in the 32-team league.
“Obviously, when you turn the ball over, particularly early on against a team like that, a very good team … it gives them a jump-start,” said Colts coach Jim Caldwell, whose offense managed 252 total yards. “It’s going to be very, very tough to come back from. They (the Saints) just kept rolling.”
Indeed they did.
The scoring barrage continued in the second quarter when fullback Jed Collins nudged the ball over the goal line on a 1-yard dive to cap a 69-yard drive and John Kasay kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 31-0.
The Colts got their only score on a 2-yard run by Carter with 1:56 to play in the first half, but the Saints pushed the score to 34-7 on a 47-yard Kasay field goal on the final play of the first half.
The second half was highlighted by two more Brees touchdown passes to tight end Jimmy Graham on throws of 4 and 2 yards in the third quarter.
By then, the game had long gotten away from the struggling Colts.
“Every once in a while, you’re involved in a game like this where the score gets away one way or another,” Payton said. “If you’re in this business long enough, you find yourself on both ends of it. You just hope more often than not, you’re on the winning side of it.”