At first glance, the 30-20 final score might be alarming for those expecting a big defensive performance by the Minnesota Vikings on their home turf.
At second glance, some of the concern should be put to rest. The New Orleans Saints scored 14 points off turnovers and another three points after a turnover on downs in Vikings territory. Drew Brees threw for 120 yards — his lowest output in a game in which he played all four quarters since Dec. 19, 2004, when he had just six pass attempts against the Cleveland Browns.
A third glance, however, shows that the Saints played a nearly-perfect second half offensively, winning the time of possession battle after halftime with three productive drives that either resulted in points or drained clock.
Brees only threw the ball 10 times in the second half, going 8 for 10 for 56 yards, but four of his completions converted first downs, and two others got the Saints within a yard of the sticks.
On the ground, the Saints weren’t perfect, finishing the night at just 3.7 yards per carry in a 50/50 workload between Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but they ran it well down the stretch.
In the fourth quarter, the Saints essentially put the game away with a clock-killing eight-minute, 15-second field goal drive that raised their lead to three possessions. They later picked up a pair of first downs following Dan Bailey’s onside kick with Minnesota trailing by 10. In the first 12 minutes of the final quarter, the Saints ran it seven times for 40 yards, or 5.7 yards per carry, and four first downs.
Brees didn’t throw largely because he didn’t need to.
With the clock running and the Saints rushing the ball effectively, New Orleans’ quarterback saved his arm for third downs, which he converted at 44 percent on the night.
“There’s no moral victories out here,” said safety Harrison Smith, who intercepted Brees in the first half. “We take the good and try to continue doing that.”
There were certainly a few positives to take away. Michael Thomas was held to just 17 yards after his first two catches got him 64 yards on the game’s opening drive. The Saints only had one play of 20 yards or longer — Thomas’s 44-yard catch. And Smith’s interception of Brees was the future Hall of Famer’s first since last year’s Divisional Round playoff game against the Vikings.
“This is still a good football team, even in here it seems like a morgue,” said head coach Mike Zimmer from his postgame podium. “This is a good football team. These guys fought
their rear ends off tonight, and I’m proud of them.”
The Vikings defense only allowed six points on its own accord in the second half, but because of numerous offensive mistakes, they were put in a position where they needed quick stops or turnovers to breathe life back into the game.
That didn’t happen against the Saints, who methodically squeezed the energy out of a once-raucous crowd.
“I felt offensively that we were efficient,” Brees said. “There weren’t a ton of big plays, but it was just a lot of grind-it-out type of football, time of possession, running the ball and putting ourselves in position to score.”