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Vikings vs. Saints: Five Game-Changing Plays

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We look back at five of the most important plays that led to the Vikings’ Monday night win over the New Orleans Saints.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
“Alright stop...collaborate and listen...”
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Starting the season 1-0 on Monday Night Football in front of your frenzied home crowd? Amazing.

Starting the season 1-0 while holding your former franchise running back to a paltry 18 yards and your next franchise running back cracks the century mark? Even better.

Starting the season 1-0 while your oft-maligned quarterback finally has a little of time to sling the ball all over the field to the tune of a 143.0 quarterback rating, all while the team had zero turnovers and major injuries? Priceless.

There was definitely a lot to like about the Minnesota Vikings’ season opening victory over the New Orleans Saints. The defense held a very dangerous Saints offense largely in check for most of the evening while the offense looked leaps and bounds better than the sputtering unit trotted out last year. It was only one game, but there were several key plays that signified what this Vikings team could be capable of.

And we’re only going to talk about five of them.

In what may or may not be a new weekly segment this season (depending on how this goes), we’ll break down each Vikings game by pointing to the five most important plays that influenced the outcome. Sometimes these will be the obvious plays that swayed the game on the scoreboard. Others might be a bit more subtle but still went a long way toward victory for one team or the other. We’ll give the game situation from the game book, provide a gif of each play, and then explain why they were so important.

Got it? Good. Let’s get started.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 on the New Orleans 39. Second quarter, 4:44 remaining. S.Bradford pass deep right to J.Wright to NO 18 for 21 yards (M.Williams) [C.Jordan].

I defy you to find a better pass from the opening week of NFL action.

I mean...just, wow. I honestly thought the touchdown throw that Sam Bradford had to Stefon Diggs last year in Week 2 against the Packers couldn’t be topped. I guess I was wrong. That throw was an absolute seed. Bradford didn’t find a tiny window—he made a tiny window. After the offense got off to a rather sluggish start, this dime was the second of a three-play, lightning-fast master class of downfield efficiency that ended with the Vikings’ first touchdown of the season. Most of us were really worried that the 2017 offense was going to look just like the 2016 version, but this play started to quell our concerns.

Let’s also give a special shoutout to Nick Easton and Dalvin Cook, who both covered a lot of ground to make their respective blocks. (But let’s maybe have fewer plays where Kyle Rudolph is asked to be the right tackle and block Cameron Jordan 1-on-1. That almost ended very poorly.)

Play 2: Vikings ball, 2nd & 4 on the New Orleans 24. Second quarter, 0:22 remaining. (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to S.Diggs to NO 4 for 20 yards (K.Vaccaro). PENALTY on NO-K.Vaccaro, Unnecessary Roughness, 2 yards, enforced at NO 4.

This play was important for several reasons:

  1. It set up another Vikings touchdown, giving them a 10-point lead just before half. (It should have been 11, but Kai Forbath decided to do a Blair Walsh tribute that probably took another three weeks off of Mike Zimmer’s life.)
  2. It showed that Stefon Diggs is still a ridiculously good pass catcher.
  3. Diggs somehow didn’t get seriously hurt in this collision, which obviously bodes well for the future success of the Vikings offense.
  4. It proved that Sean Payton probably made a poor decision by calling those timeouts at the beginning of the drive. When the Vikings got the ball back with 1:43 left and a 10-6 lead, I had my doubts about whether Minnesota would go all-in at getting more points before the half. Perhaps Zimmer and his staff did as well; the drive started conservatively with a handoff and a short pass to Dalvin Cook. But Payton called a timeout after each play. The Vikings converted the 3rd and 1 on the next play, and then they ended up scoring with three seconds remaining in the half. Thanks, Sean!
  5. It let us know that the cheap shot legacy of Gregg Williams lives on in New Orleans. Seriously, the Saints are practically wrestling heels every time they play the Vikings. And yes, this was definitely a cheap shot. Kenny Vaccaro went head hunting on this play. He lowered his head and raised his arms before launching right at Diggs’ helmet.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 3rd & 9 on their own 12. Third quarter, 1:53 remaining. (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to A.Thielen to MIN 39 for 27 yards (M.Lattimore).

Last year, on third and...well, anything longer than about 4...logic would say that the Vikings weren’t converting it. The offensive line wouldn’t give Bradford any time and he would ultimately check down for a short pass well before the first down marker. Especially when the team was pinned deep in their own end.

But this year, maybe things will be different.

First of all, let’s look at the p...pocket? Pocket, right? I’m pretty sure it’s pocket. It has been a while since I have seen one in Minnesota, sorry. Anyway, look at the pocket Bradford has on this throw. Sure, it’s the Saints and they are only rushing four against six blockers. But in 2016 three guys off the street and a piece of lawn furniture could have caused trouble for the Vikings offensive line.

And how about a round of applause for Adam Thielen? All he did was rack up 157 yards on 9 catches while showing off the great hands we have grown accustomed to seeing. Since Week 16 of the 2016 season, nobody in the NFL has had more receiving yards than Thielen. Not too bad for an undrafted free agent out of Detroit Lakes.

Extending this drive wasn’t only important for the psyche of the fans, but for the result of the game. Six plays later, the Vikings were in the end zone again and up by 17.

Play 4: Saints ball, 3rd & goal on the Vikings 2. Fourth quarter, 8:00 remaining. (Run formation) J.LeRibeus reported in as eligible. D.Brees pass incomplete short right to A.Peterson.

This one should have felt really familiar to Vikings fans.

For starters, Adrian Peterson ran a route and the play failed. But the sensation that felt most familiar to me was how everyone in the building knew the ball was going to AP one way or the other on this play. Sean Payton repeatedly tried to force-feed Peterson the ball in the red zone Monday night even though the plan was blatantly obvious to everyone in US Bank Stadium.

And therein lies the rub with Peterson. Even if he has something left in the tank as a runner—a notion that is at the very least debatable these days—his lack of ability in the passing game makes his mere presence on the field a bigger tell than KGB’s Oreos in Rounders. Every time Peterson was out there last night, you might as well have put neon lights and an arrow above his head saying “THIS GUY’S GETTING THE BALL.” And as Vikings fans, we know exactly what that feels like. Without the inherent need to satiate AP, you have lots more ways to be less predictable.

It’s not like Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who had 17 and 18 yards respectively, did much more than AP on Monday. But after watching this rotation in action last night, I don’t see things ending well for Peterson in New Orleans. The Vikings have to be thrilled with their decision to part ways with him.

Especially after the final play we’re going to talk about.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 3rd & 7 on the New Orleans 45. Fourth quarter, 1:42 remaining. D.Cook right end to NO 12 for 33 yards (A.Klein).

This play didn’t affect the final score, but it was still important on a lot of levels.

  • It officially iced the game away. Yes, I know it was a two-possession game with under two minutes left and the Saints had no timeouts. But I wasn’t ready to put it in the win column until after this play. This is still the Vikings we’re talking about.
  • It could prove be the precise moment that the torch was passed from Adrian Peterson to Dalvin Cook as the next Vikings franchise running back. This run set the team record for most rushing yards in a rookie debut. The dichotomy of Cook’s night compared to Peterson’s struggles were not lost on us.
  • It was the perfect example of how special Cook is as a runner. His jump cut and burst to the outside showed exactly what he is capable of at this level. This guy could be special.

Again, there were tons of important plays to choose from last night. Which play do you think was the biggest? Let us know in the poll. Think we missed some? Should this be an ongoing weekly segment? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Enjoy your special edition of Victory Tuesday, everyone!

Poll

What was the most important play of the Vikings’ win over the Saints?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Bradford to Wright
    (252 votes)
  • 33%
    Diggs holds on late in the first half
    (457 votes)
  • 33%
    Thielen’s third down conversion
    (453 votes)
  • 3%
    AP’s goal line incompletion
    (47 votes)
  • 7%
    Cook’s game-icing run
    (108 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (38 votes)
1355 votes total Vote Now