By Simon Evans
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The New Orleans Saints celebrated last season's Super Bowl championship then launched the defense of their crown with a rousing 14-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday to open a new NFL season.
The Saints' march to the Super Bowl last season was powered by the league's top offense, but Thursday's win came courtesy of a grinding defense that held Brett Favre and the Vikings off the scoreboard in the second half.
"I've been saying all week that this is a different game by two different teams," Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters. "We can't draw comparisons to last year.
"Regardless of how you win them, we are at a point where our players expect to win and that is what's important.
"That was a big win. A real good win for our team."
Brees, who shifted the party into high gear on the game's opening drive when he connected with Devery Henderson for a 29-yard score, completed 27 of 36 pass attempts for 237 yards and one touchdown.
Favre, making his 286th consecutive start, also threw for a touchdown but the 40-year-old was unable to deliver any of the late-game heroics that have marked his Hall of Fame career.
"There were three or four throws I just missed," said Favre, who completed 15 of 27 attempts for 171-yards. "There is no excuse, I just missed.
"There were a couple of reads I should have made differently. If I do that, it's a different game."
The Vikings crashed the party in the Louisiana Superdome in the second quarter when a 41-yard Ryan Longwell field goal and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Visanthe Shiancoe gave the visitors a 9-7 lead they would carry into the intermission.
The Superdome was soon rocking again, however, as the Saints roared out of the break and grabbed the lead on their opening possession when Pierre Thomas powered over from the one-yard line to cap an 11-play scoring drive.
The Saints missed a chance to add to their lead when Garrett Hartley, who misfired on a 46-yard field goal attempt in the opening half, shanked a 32-yard attempt wide early in the fourth quarter.
(Writing by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue and Nick Mulvenney;