ATLANTA -- This was one game Sean Payton refused to watch from the press box, not with first place on the line, not for a game against his Saints' biggest rival.
So leaning on crutches, Payton was back on the sideline and Saints players said their coach's surprise return provided a lift.
"It was great having him," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns. "Just his presence. He couldn't wait to get back down there,"
Payton has had to watch games from the press box since a sideline collision on Oct. 17 left him with a broken leg and knee injuries. He still wears a big brace on his left leg.
He said he made the decision to return to the sideline early Sunday.
"Really, I just felt like this was an important game," Payton said. "That presence is important. I talked to the doctors this morning."
Ben Montgomery, the NFL's observer at the game, said due to safety concerns Payton was told he must remain a few yards away from the field.
"He has to stay behind the white box," Montgomery said, referring to the marked area where players and coaches normally stand.
It was as difficult to keep Payton out of the box as it was to keep him away from the sideline. He dodged traffic as he usually stood about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
"He definitely has a presence, and just seeing him out there is a comfortable feeling," said Saints receiver Marques Colston, who had eight catches for 113 yards. "It is nice just knowing that your head coach is out there."
The division rivals played their second overtime game in two years.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.