The Vikings hosted the New Orleans Saints in the opening Monday Night Football game of the year, and despite some concerns coming about the revamped Saints defense and the Vikings stagnant preseason offense, the Vikings prevailed with a 29-19 win to start the season 1-0.
Both teams started out little uneven as the refs helped team to extend their drives and kick field goals. But just before half the Vikings put in their two-minute offense and raced down the field for the game’s first touchdown and never looked back.
By the time they wrapped things up with a Sam Bradford to Kyle Rudolph touchdown reception, the Vikings looked like a team that was finding their confidence. That bolds well for the schedule ahead, as the team travels to Pittsburgh next to face another high-power offense. But tonight, the team looks ready from both sides of the ball. Confidence is a wonderful thing.
The Vikings defense had the toughest draw of the evening, having to defend quarterback Drew Brees for four quarters. And they really answered the bell. While Brees moved the Saints down the field several times in the game, the defense stepped up when they needed to hold New Orleans to field goals. Even in the fourth quarter when the Saints marched the length of the field, head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense stood up and made the visitors settle for a fourth field goal. This bend but don’t break play was a major deciding factor in the game.
Standouts on defense included the front seven who protected well against the run, giving up only 60 yards rushing on the night. In the secondary, Trae Waynes had a decent game, even though he was victimized a couple of times (and gave up a garbage time touchdown). He was picked on often by Brees and in the final analysis comes out okay.
Quarterback Sam Bradford started the ballgame looking as though he was excited to play, but it really didn’t materialize into much. Soon, however, Bradford started to heat up. In one of the defining drives of the half, Bradford and the offense got the ball with a little over six minutes remaining the half and they scored to take their first lead in the game. Bradford hit Adam Thielen across the deep middle for a 35-yard strike, then squeezed one into a tight window to Jarius Wright for 21 yards and then on the next play, he lofted an easy pass to wide open Stefon Diggs in the endzone for a 18-yard score. The Saints defense looked shell-hocked as Diggs’ defender bit on a play fake to Cook and left Diggs untouched in the corner of the end zone. Bradford, who look shakey early in the game, restored some faith in the Purple faithful with that drive. When he did virtually the same thing on a second score with just three ticks left before halftime, the fans roared in total belief. Bradford’s numbers on the night were some of his best as a Viking—27 of 32 for 346 yards and three touchdown passes—hopefully it is a sign of things to come.
Adrian Peterson returned as the starting running back for the Saints, and though he was wearing different colors, there was something familiar about him—the more recent Peterson, that is. Peterson did not “stick it to” the Vikings as he hoped to do coming in, finished the game instead with six carries for 18 yards and 3.0 yards per carry average. Despite his first run of nine yards right out of the gate, Peterson did little else, and partially because didn’t have the opportunity that he hoped for. And Peterson let his new head coach Sean Payton know just how he felt about it. It was an inauspicious return for the former bell cow of the Vikings offense, and it was no way for him to start the season—as we must begin to wonder how many seasons he has left.
Dalvin Cook became the first rookie running back since 2001 to start for the Vikings on opening day when Michael Bennett did it. And he looked a bit like a rookie starting on opening night in the early going—tentative, a dropped pass. But Cook settled in found his groove in the late14 for 48 until he finally broke loose for a 32 yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cook showed his toughness in the ballgame, getting most of his 127 yards up the middle of the Saints defense (although a second garbage time run of 33 yards iced the game put Cook over the century mark.. Cook also caught three passes for passes yards and showed off all the skills that he was reported to have coming into the Vikings.
The biggest offseason story for the Vikings was far-and-away the offensive line, and the rebuilt line (sans Alex Boone) did their job on opening night. The line gave Bradford some clean pockets with plenty of time to throw the ball downfield—something that was not seen frequently from Bradford in 2016. The line struggled in the run game a bit, as Cook often found little room to roam up the middle. But for it being the first time they played together as a unit, the get decent marks for the effort.
Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen would have been worth defending by the Saints, but they had trouble with that prospect most of the night. Diggs came into the season want to make up for what he considered a down year in 2016, and he started out well with catching seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, one them an acrobatic grab while under duress near the out of bounds line. B t the real workhorse was Thielen, who grabbed nine passes for 157 yards. Thielen was hauling in the passers all over the field, and only missed one pass in the end zone when a scrambling Bradford tried to force it in. Together, the pair of wideouts only missed a total of two targets on the game, and they were exciting to watch for a fan base starved of some downfield fireworks.
Should be Ending
Penalty flags were flying high and often in the first half of the game. The first three scoring drives were clearly aided by them. Several phantom calls were made that will leave an observer scratching their heads. They included a questionable holding on Mike Remmers and then a roughing the passer penalty on Tom Johnson for hitting Brees too low—he hit around the thigh and ended up down by his knee (where was that call in the 2009 NFC Championship game between these two teams.) Bring on the full time refs if it doesn’t get any better than this.
Missed PATs. Place kicker Kai Forbath missed an extra point in the game and then barely snuck a 32-yard field goal inside the upright. That is the kind of thing that coast the longer-legged Marshall Koehn his job at the end of the preseason, according to special team coordinator Mike Priefer. Priefer likely has Koehn on speed dial if such a thing were to continue—but don’t count on it. Forbath is solid—he made every other kick on the night (three field goals and two extra points).
Something that shouldn’t be ending are the awards for Randy Moss. He was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime of the game, and it was great to see him part of the pageantry of the Vikings season opening game at U.S. Bank Stadium. But it should be only the preamble to another award coming his way. Moss is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, next season and he should be a first-ballot hall of famer. Just take a look at his highlights that we were treated to for years and try to disagree.