The Minnesota Vikings won another tightly contested game, this time against a New Orleans Saints team missing most of its stars. With the early start in London, it seemed like the Minnesota Vikings’ offense was sleepwalking through most of the first half. The only exception was the seven-minute opening drive that ended with Alexander Mattison taking a screen pass to the end zone.
In the second half, the Saints offense came to life. They scored two touchdowns, while the Vikings’ offense could only muster field goals on most of their drives.
Despite recovering a fumble on a punt, converting a fake punt, and some lucky breaks, the Vikings still found themselves down 22-19 in the fourth quarter. Minnesota could muster a touchdown late, with Justin Jefferson taking a handoff three yards to the end zone. But Greg Joseph missed the extra point, making it a three-point game.
The Saints tied the score late thanks to Will Lutz’s impressive 60-yard field goal, which he made with leg to spare. The Vikings marched right back down the field, and Joseph atoned for missing the PAT by giving Minnesota a three-point lead with less than a minute left.
Still, backup QB Andy Dalton managed to set Lutz up for a 61-yard kick to tie the game, but the ball clanged off the right upright — and the crossbar — giving the Vikings the narrow victory.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ win over the Saints in London.
Jefferson broke out of his two-game slump, recording 10 catches for 147 yards. There have been rumblings this season that teams have figured out how to play against Jefferson. In Weeks 2 and 3, the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions held him to minimal gains.
Mashon Lattimore has a reputation as a lockdown receiver in man coverage. Jefferson wasn’t perfect, but he proved that he was still plenty dangerous. He beat Lattimore over the middle of the field and on out routes. He also lined up in the backfield, catching a pass as a running back and running the ball in too.
Although his two drops were a bit concerning, they weren’t entirely his fault. Cousins threw one of the passes a bit behind him.
The Vikings failed to capitalize on the Saints’ mistakes, only putting up six points off turnovers. The Vikings’ defense and special teams put the offense in great position, with Harrison Phillips recovering a Dalton fumble at the Saints’ 20. Instead of punching the ball into the end zone, Cousins & Co. stalled out, leaving Joseph to convert the short field goal.
The Vikings again threatened to put the game out of reach when Kris Boyd forced a fumble on Saints punt returner Deonte Hardy at the 44-yard line. Despite getting favorable field position again, the Vikings’ offense only mustered another three points. Minnesota’s offense needs to take advantage of the momentum their defense and special teams give them. The Vikings managed to escape with a win this week, but they may not have the same luck against better teams.
The Vikings’ defense struggled against the run again, giving up 111 yards on the ground. With Alvin Kamara and Jameis Winston not playing, you would have assumed the Vikings’ defense would sell out against the run and make the Red Rifle beat them through the air.
The defense disrupted the run game early, but the Saints ran the ball much more effectively as the game progressed. Mark Ingram and old friend Latavius Murray wore down the front seven with every rush. Their ability to hit back against the front seven meant Minnesota’s defenders could not bring them down. This allowed the Saints to effectively use play action and move the ball through the air. It made the defensive line hesitant in the pass rush.
The Vikings got a lot of help from the Saints (and, debatably, the officials) as New Orleans gave up 102 yards in penalties — including some major momentum killers. After getting a crucial stop on third down, the Saints’ D bailed out the Vikings with an illegal use of hands penalty that turned a fourth-and-10 into a first-and-10.
Later in the drive, the Vikings’ offense got another break on another third-and-long when Lattimore draped all over Adam Thielen on a long bomb from Cousins. The play resulted in a 41-yard flag that set up the Vikings on the three-yard line. They would soon score a touchdown to put them ahead.
Cousins was 16/16 in the first half when he attempted throws on: crossing routes, screens, out routes, and in-breaking routes. However, Cousins looked uncomfortable pushing the ball downfield in the first half, throwing his only interception of the game on a go route to Irv Smith. Still, the easy throws allowed Cousins to build a rhythm and methodically move the ball.
The offensive line struggled to keep Cousins upright. With the pressure getting to him, Cousins struggled to generate momentum. Though he was hesitant to throw deep shots all day, he hit Jefferson on the go route, putting the ball in field-goal range for the game-winning kick.