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Vikings vs. Saints Week 8: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the most important plays from the 30-20 loss to New Orleans.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
P.J. Williams and Adam Thielen were both involved in momentum-swinging plays on Sunday night.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings out-gained the New Orleans Saints by 153 yards on Sunday night. They had ten more first downs. They ran 14 more plays. They won the time of possession battle. They averaged 1.2 yards per play more than the Saints. They held Drew Brees, the NFL’s all-time leading passer, to 120 yards and picked him off for the first time this season. Kirk Cousins had 359 yards, two touchdowns, and a 107.7 passer rating. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had over 100 yards and a score.

And they still lost by ten points, trailing by double digits for most of the second half.

Football is a funny game that way. You can put up all the impressive numbers and yet come out on the losing end if you make crucial mistakes at the wrong time. That’s just what the Vikings did en route to a home loss to the Saints in which they were their own worst enemy. With so many key players missing and such a dangerous opponent, it wasn’t all that surprising that the Vikings allowed 30 points and lost the game. I predicted just that on Thursday. How they lost was the more disheartening part of the equation. During the three-game win streak the Vikings had snapped on Sunday night, we saw glimpses of what this team has the potential to be, but the specters of inconsistency still loomed. Those apparitions came to the forefront against the Saints. Let’s take our weekly review of which plays made the biggest difference in the outcome.

Play 1: Saints ball, 3rd & 2 at the New Orleans 27. First quarter, 13:34 remaining. (Shotgun) D.Brees pass deep right to M.Thomas pushed ob at NO 47 for 20 yards (T.Waynes). Minnesota challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field was confirmed. (Timeout #1.)

While most of what we’re going to cover today will be the self-inflicted Vikings wounds, it’s important to remember that the Saints are a very good football team with some incredibly talented weapons. They showed that on the third play of the game with this toss from Brees to Michael Thomas.

Trae Waynes had excellent coverage, but Thomas was still able to leap for the grab and get both heels in bounds. Instead of a three and out to start the game, the Saints kept the drive alive. Five plays later, Brees sent a quick shovel pass to Alvin Kamara and New Orleans opened the game with a touchdown instead of a punt.

The Vikings did better than most defenses against Thomas and Kamara; Thomas had five grabs for 81 yards and Kamara had 76 total yards on 20 touches. Although Kamara did find the end zone twice, that’s a respectable performance against two of the most dynamic players in the NFL. But it’s hard to beat a team like the Saints when you can’t quit getting in your own way.

Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 40. Second quarter, 7:06 remaining. (No Huddle) L.Murray right tackle to NO 37 for 23 yards (M.Williams). PENALTY on MIN-P.Elflein, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at MIN 40 - No Play.

The Vikings recovered from the opening drive touchdown to score two of their own: a short pass to Stefon Diggs on fourth and goal and a 1-yard dive by Latavius Murray made the score 13-7 early in the second quarter. (Dan Bailey missed an extra point in a play that should probably go into the honorable mention section of this article.) The Saints were able to get a Wil Lutz field goal to make it 13-10 halfway through the second quarter. Minnesota answered with this huge run by Murray on the first play of the ensuing drive:

However, the play was called back for holding by Pat Elflein against Taylor Stallworth. It was a legit call, but one has to wonder whether Murray would have made it through the gap anyway if Elflein didn’t add a little bit extra to his block.

Instead of 1st & 10 in New Orleans territory, the Vikings did the following on their next three plays:

  1. A sack where Sheldon Rankins ran through Danny Isidora like it was a video game with clipping turned off;
  2. A run up the middle to C.J. Ham for 1 yard on 2nd & 25(????); and
  3. A pass to Roc Thomas well short of the sticks.

Instead of being in great position to add to their lead, the Vikings had to boot the ball away. Thankfully, the Vikings defense was able to get it right back. Stephen Weatherly pressured Drew Brees into throwing his first interception of the season to Harrison Smith. The Vikings were in business again late in the half with the opportunity to score and get the ball again to start the third quarter. It was a great chance to create some space between themselves and their opponents.

Instead, what happened was a 14-point swing that the Vikings never recovered from.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the New Orleans 18. Second quarter, 1:11 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short left to A.Thielen to NO 14 for 4 yards (A.Anzalone). FUMBLES (A.Anzalone), RECOVERED by NO-M.Lattimore at NO 13. M.Lattimore to MIN 33 for 54 yards (L.Treadwell). PENALTY on MIN-L.Treadwell, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 15 yards, enforced at MIN 33.

Adam Thielen had the first hiccup of what has otherwise been an amazing season, and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.

P.J. Williams, who spent the majority of the night getting roasted by Thielen and Diggs, made the first of two very important plays by lodging the ball loose after the completion. Marshon Lattimore took it all the way to the Vikings 33. Laquon Treadwell took it 15 yards farther with a boneheaded unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Two plays later, Kamara was in the end zone for the second time. Instead of heading to the locker room up 16-10 or 20-10, the Vikings trailed 17-13 at the half. It was a shell-shocking moment the normally resilient team never seemed to recover from.

Of course, maybe things could have been different if the Vikings didn’t go to a draft pick they have never recovered from on their next important play.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 4th & 1 at the Minnesota 45. Third quarter, 12:33 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete short middle to L.Treadwell (M.Lattimore).

On the first drive of the second half, Mike Zimmer faced a tough decision after Diggs was stopped just short of the marker on third down. He made the bold choice to go for it in his own territory. The call was justified. Whether the motivation was Zimmer trying to keep the explosive Saints offense on the field, or trying to gain the momentum back, or simply embracing the analytics that say going for it more often is a good idea, the aggressiveness was admirable. The execution left a bit to be desired.

First of all, spreading out into an empty backfield with no threat of a run was curious. Secondly, I sincerely doubt that going to Treadwell against Lattimore was the most appealing matchup. Aldrick Robinson looked open right away on the short hook. Thielen looked to be in a favorable position against linebacker Demario Davis; if Cousins was able to lead a pass to the outside, Thielen could have had a big gain. However, Cousins’ time in the pocket was limited thanks to Marcus Davenport sprinting past Rashod Hill. The throw could have been placed better, and Lattimore got his hand to the ball nicely after it arrived, but it’s still something that Treadwell should come down with. The Saints added three more points after the turnover on downs and the Vikings would never come closer for the rest of the game. The second play of the following Minnesota drive made sure of that.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 2nd & 8 at the Minnesota 44. Third quarter, 6:08 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short middle intended for S.Diggs INTERCEPTED by P.Williams at MIN 45. P.Williams for 45 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The moment we all realized there would be no second miracle.

Cousins attempted to sidestep the oncoming pressure and deliver a sidearm pass to Diggs. Problem is, Diggs stopped his route. With all the traffic in front of him, Cousins didn’t realize this until Williams was galloping into the end zone to give the Saints a 14-point lead.

Diggs has taken the blame for stopping short on his route, and Mike Zimmer has scolded players for taking individual blame since it’s a team sport. Either way, the miscommunication effectively ended any chance of the Vikings pulling out a win.

At 4-3-1, the Vikings remain firmly in the race for the muddled NFC North with three straight division games on the horizon. The upcoming stretch of their season will likely decide their postseason fate. At the halfway mark, this doesn’t exactly look like a team poised for a deep run in January. However, there is still plenty of potential, plenty of returning injured starters, and plenty of time to clean up the crippling mistakes that have plagued them at times. We’ll see if they can pull it off, starting with next week’s game against the Lions.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.


What was the most important play from the Vikings’ loss to the Saints?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Thomas’ third down catch
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Murray’s run called back by holding on Elflein
    (16 votes)
  • 78%
    Thielen’s fumble
    (800 votes)
  • 4%
    Failing on 4th and 1 to Treadwell
    (44 votes)
  • 15%
    P.J. Williams’ pick six
    (157 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (5 votes)
1022 votes total Vote Now