Time to take a quick look back at the opening game of the season. Since the NFL has begun matching a conference-champion team with the team it beat to get to the Super Bowl, the home team has always won. It happened again as the Saints used the emotion of the game, plus a show of solidarity with those economically harmed by the Gulf Oil spill, to propel them to a passionate victory.
In Thursday's game, the Vikings got off to a slow start. The Saints effortlessly passed down the field and scored a touchdown. Then the Vikings' defense stiffened. Adrian Peterson was running well behind good blocking. The Vikings marched down the field and scored a field goal. Later, Favre found Shiancoe for two big passes, and a touchdown.
The extra point, however, was blocked, as Anthony Herrera was beaten soundly on a block. That proved to be the turning point in the game.
In the second half, the Saints took away the Vikings' running lanes and checkdown passes to Peterson. They rotated Roman Harper to cover Shiancoe, and Shiancoe couldn't get open anymore.
The Saints started using a cutback running play. This utilized the strength of their offensive line, the guards, and apparently found a mistake in how the Vikings' were playing. Over and over the cutback lane was open. The Saints gashed the Vikings' defense in running plays up the middle, over and over, through the second half. At one point, they scored their second touchdown of the game.
Eventually, the clock ran out on this mostly boring football game. Final score: Saints 14, Vikings 9.
It was clear that the Vikings' offense was not in sync. Favre and Harvin weren't on the same page. Favre and Berrian were never on the same page. Favre hit Camarillo on one big play, and that was it. Favre was out of rhythm, to put it mildly.
The worst news of the night, aside from losing, was Bryant McKinnie suffering a finger or hand injury. He was taken to the locker room, presumably for x-rays. As we had expected, Loadholt slid over to left tackle, and Ryan Cook entered the game at right tackle. Loadholt was quickly overmatched by Saints defensive end Will Smith, underlining the need for a true backup left tackle on the roster.
John Sullivan returned at center, but played hurt. He was beaten badly several times in the course of the game.
New third down back Albert Young did a great job at pass protection and pass catching. He did poorly on his handful of rushing attempts.
In addition to sync issues, Favre made several poor decisions and bad throws. He had one interception, and should have had a few more.
The Vikings' defensive backs played mostly poorly. Asher Allen dropped an interception. Every DB, including Winfield, was beaten quite badly. Husain Abdullah played about as good as Tyrell Johnson at strong safety. Overall, nothing was great about the DB play.
On special teams, the Vikings once again had to play second fiddle in the field position game. Despite having excellent strong-legged Rhys Lloyd on their roster a few weeks ago, the Vikings decided to cut him. As a result, the Saints would start at their 30 or so on kickoffs. Their kickoff specialist crushed the ball deep into the end zone routinely. Harvin bravely tried to run the ball out. It turned out to be the wrong decision multiple times, as he would get blasted at the 15 yard line.
On the other hand, the Saints were firing on all cylinders. Everything was in sync for their offense. Their defense made few mistakes.
It was very heartening to see an out-of-sync, banged-up Vikings team play badly and still lose by only five points to the world champions at their stadium. It would have been more heartening to pull out a victory, but it doesn't always happen that way.
The Vikings can look forward to cleaning up many of their issues. Some players like Cedric Griffen and Chris Cook will return. On the other hand, the situation at left tackle is worrisome. If McKinnie did break a bone in his hand, the Vikings may have tough decisions to make. The Vikings may have parted company too soon with Patrick Brown (now with the Jets).
Finally, for Vikings fans, it was nice to get the first Sunday night game of the season out of the way already. I think that NBC came up with 50 different stats proving how great the Saints were, when they only needed one (Super Bowl victory). Meanwhile, NBC had precious little complimentary to say about the Vikings, despite being one of the top-four teams in the NFL last year. If NBC was accurate in its presentation, it is not even worth having a football season. The next Lombardi trophy should just be awarded to the Saints right now.