White’s ankle sprain hinders his performance

White, who has never missed a game since coming into the NFL out of Alabama-Birmingham is 2005, was clearly slowed. It appeared that the Falcons used him as a decoy for much of the game. He was only targeted on two passes, catching both for 19 yards.

“I wasn’t my usual self,” said White, who had the ankle heavily taped after the game. “But you go out there and play as much as possible and try to help your team win. But it will be maybe a few more weeks before I can go out there and be myself. But no excuses. We just came up short today.”

White admitted that he was to play a limited part of the game plan.

“We had a package going in,” White said. “They wanted me in certain areas to do certain things so that they couldn’t just bracket guys. That’s what we did.”

White was limited in practice all last week, though the Falcons have insisted that his injury wasn’t a high ankle sprain.

Asked twice if his injury was high ankle sprain, White said, “Yeah. It’s hard to cut. It’s hard to do just about everything at the position. No excuses. When you go out there, you try to win.”

White said he also played more that he expected.

“They had me on kind of a snap-count,” White said. “I know I played more snaps than I was supposed to. I was supposed to play 10 or 15. I played a lot more. I wanted to be out there.”

His performance aside, White was not pleased with the offense’s 17-point showing.

“We (shot) ourselves in the foot on a lot of drives,” he said. “We had penalties. We had things called back and drives stalled. We got off to such a good start, but then we kept doing things wrong.

“But when you’re that bad and you still have a chance to win the game … Our defense played a hell of a game. They give us an opportunity and came up big when we needed it most. Kudos to our defense. We on offense, with the players we have, have to win this game. “

Secondary shuffle: The Falcons determined about two hours before kickoff that cornerback Asante Samuel was not able to play with a thigh injury. With Samuel out, Robert McClain started at left cornerback.

When the Falcons went to five defensive backs, McClain played inside in the slot and rookie Robert Alford took over at left cornerback.

McClain became an important contributor after making the league as a long shot when Carolina selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.

“I made some mistakes that I have to improve on,” said McClain, who was credited with 10 tackles.

Alford had a strong game in his NFL debut. He broke up two passes and wrestled a pass away from Saints wide receiver Marques Colston for an interception.

“I went in and I competed every day at practice, trying to get ready for my moment,” Alford said. “My moment presented itself. They came over there and I knocked down a ball and I didn’t want to let out any explosive plays.”

Alford expected he’d be targeted by Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

“We were prepared for it,” Alford said.

At the right cornerback spot, rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant also had a solid game with five tackles and one pass break-up.

“I felt that I held my own,” Trufant said. “As a secondary, just as a whole, we did pretty good. The future is very bright for us.”

Inactives: In addition to Samuel, running back Josh Vaughan, safety Kemal Ishmael, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, guard Harland Gunn, defensive tackle Travian Robertson and defensive end Stansly Maponga were inactive.

Tackler leader: Linebacker Akeem Dent led the Falcons with 11 tackles, including two for losses.

On their second possession of the game, the Saints went for a fourth-and-1 and Dent stuffed running back Mark Ingram for a yard loss.

“I felt like we went and made some plays here and there,” Dent said. “We’ve still got some work to do. We have to keep improving. It’s Week One.”

Etc.: Quarterback Matt Ryan, who passed for 304 yards, recorded his 18th career 300-yard game. … Tight end Tony Gonzalez caught his 104th career touchdown in the first quarter. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Gonzalez became just the third player in NFL history to catch a touchdown pass in 17 different seasons. He joined Jerry Rice (19) and Irving Fryar (17). … Gonzalez has also caught at least one pass in 196 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

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AJC columnist Jeff Schultz contributed to this story.