Sam Ekstrom gives his initial reaction the Vikings-Saints Wild Card game.
Overtime at the Superdome? How appropriate.
After playing better than the Saints for three quarters, the Vikings lost a 10-point fourth quarter lead and went to overtime in the building where there season ended in similar fashion 10 years ago with Brett Favre at the helm.
Sunday they exorcised some demons. Kirk Cousins led a 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive and capped it with a third-down pass to Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone. Vikings 26, Saints 20.
Mike Zimmer’s defense was altogether terrific against Drew Brees and the red-hot Saints. Drew Brees turned it over twice and was routinely perplexed by Minnesota’s pass rush. Most of New Orleans success on offense was generated because of flex player Taysom Hill, while Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara were merely ordinary.
In the biggest game of his career, Kirk Cousins was indecisive most of the game, but shone on the final drive, converting a third down to Stefon Diggs, a long pass to Adam Thielen and his winning TD to Rudolph.
A big question going in was Dalvin Cook’s health. He answered the bell early and often as he compiled 130 total yards in a performance that resembled the first half of the season. Clearly healthier after three weeks of rest, Cook gashed the Saints and helped the Vikings control the clock despite struggling offensively. New Orleans challenged the Vikings to run, and they took advantage in the first half. Though he was more bottled up in the second half, the passing game opened up as the Saints respected the run.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) January 5, 2020
Cook scored touchdowns from four yards and one yard out. His third-quarter score gave the Vikings a 20-10 lead.
It’s long been speculated that moving Everson Griffen inside on passing downs could be a worthwhile idea as he gets later in his career. It appeared as if Zimmer was saving the move for a circumstance just like the one the Vikings faced Sunday. With the Saints guards slightly less skilled than their tackles, the Vikings exploited the Saints interior offensive line and put pressure on Brees with not just Griffen but Danielle Hunter as well. Griffen had a vintage performance after declining in production the second half of the season, perhaps rested after his Week 17 off day.
Also on defense, the Vikings pulled a surprise move and moved safety Andrew Sendejo into the slot with Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes out. It was believed that Jayron Kearse would get the bulk of the work there, but Zimmer went with the more experienced veteran. Sendejo was anything but a liability as the Saints passing game was lackluster.
The Vikings also incorporated something that was used against them in Seattle, sending a sixth lineman on the field in a goal-line situation. Dakota Dozier lined up on the right side of the line for a third and goal, but Dalvin Cook’s run to the left edge was stopped for a loss.
Maybe chock it up to jitters, but there were plenty of mistakes to go around.
Adam Thielen fumbled on the game’s first drive, kicking off a sequence of drives where the Vikings shot themselves in the foot. An attempted Stefon Diggs pass went for a six-yard loss when Diggs couldn’t pull the trigger. Later Adam Thielen’s holding call nullified a first down run and led to a punt. The Vikings also squandered a 1st and goal opportunity from the 4-yard line.
But the Saints kept the Vikings in it with mistakes of their own, especially late in the first half. Drew Brees threw just his fifth interception of the year to Anthony Harris, setting up Minnesota’s touchdown before halftime. The Saints then had a shot to tie the game at the end of the second quarter, but Wil Lutz sliced a 43-yard field goal wide right.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) January 5, 2020
Late in the third quarter, the Saints converted a fake punt but were called for a false start. The Vikings also had two potential conversions wiped away by drops by rookie receivers. Bisi Johnson and Alexander Hollins got their hands on third-down passes but wouldn’t reel them in. Hollins drop could’ve set the Vikings up with a first down deep in Saints territory with under seven minutes left.
THIELEN’S SLOW START, BIG FINISH
The Vikings ostensibly believed Thielen was full-go and were prepared to unleash him in the offense for the first time since early in the season. Thielen made seven catches for 129 yards, and was one of the game’s heroes. Thielen fumbled, committed a drive-killing penalty and dropped a Cousins pass in the first half before he got going. Matched up against the Saints top corner Marshon Lattimore, Thielen got many more looks like Stefon Diggs and made some key catches on Vikings scoring drives. He grabbed a 34-yard fade from Cousins on a critical third down in the third quarter that set up Cook’s second touchdown. Then made a 41-yard snag on the Vikings overtime drive to set them up at the 2-yard line.
Stay tuned to ZoneCoverage.com for more postgame coverage.