By Joseph Gunther
One call cannot decide a game, but it sure can lead to an outcome. The Minnesota Vikings found that out Sunday in a 20-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.
The Vikings (1-2) were building momentum and got a sack on third down to force a punt on the last play of the third quarter. However, a questionable roughing the quarterback penalty on Captain Munnerlyn kept the drive alive.
Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweeted that Munnerlyn said “maybe I should have just held him up until they blew the whistle” on the penalty. He also added, “This is football.”
It may not have mattered anyway if the referees had made the correct call and not thrown the penalty flag. The Vikings offense did not do enough to warrant a victory. They needed to convert drives into touchdowns and not field goals. The Vikings got inside the 10 on the first scoring drive, then inside the 15 and 25 on the other two. Despite getting that close on those three drives, they never threatened the end zone.
Offense Grade: D
The Vikings offense was not very good, especially the offensive line. The Saints put pressure on both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater all game. Neither had time to step up and deliver the ball down field. There were just too many missed throws that were off and dropped passes to go along with too many short runs.
The Saints defense was abysmal through two games, but the Vikings managed just 247 yards of offense. They also did not produce big plays. They had just three plays of 20 yards or more — all pass plays. Cassel got Cordarrelle Patterson the ball for 28 yards on the Vikings first scoring drive. Bridgewater hit Matt Asiata and Greg Jennings for gains of 41 and 30, respectively, later in the game.
Defense Grade: B-
The Vikings defense was very good at times against a very good offense. Giving up just 20 points to the Saints is an accomplishment. After allowing the Saints to march down the field with ease in their first two drives, the Vikings defense got into the game and held the Saints to 35 yards on 18 plays before the game-clinching drive.
But, the Vikings had opportunities to make plays in the backfield, intercept passes and force punts and did not make them often enough. Harrison Smith alone got his hands on two of Drew Brees’ passes, but could not haul them in. The game-changing type of plays that the Vikings could have made were not made.
Quarterback Grade: C+
Bridgewater got his chance and looked better than Cassel. Cassel, the veteran, has done what you would expect. He will take what’s there, methodically moving the offense. When a negative play happens, the offense stalls.
Bridgewater, the rookie, has a high-ceiling. His performance wasn’t perfect. He missed some open receivers, both with inaccurate throws and not recognizing the open receiver.
The Vikings will have Bridgewater under center for awhile, but Cassel’s future may be tied to the offensive line. If they protect Bridgewater, then Cassel is likely destined to be the backup. If Bridgewater is under constant pressure, it is better that Cassel take the beating than the future quarterback.
Special Teams Grade: B+
The Vikings special teams had a good game. Patterson had a 30 yard kick return average. Blair Walsh was perfect on field goals and extra points. Jeff Locke averaged 45.3 yards per punt and got three of four inside the 20-yard line. Marcus Sherels had only 11 punt return yards, but had a 27-yard return called back on a questionable illegal block penalty.
The best special teams play of the game, however, came on the extra point following the Saints’ second touchdown. Everson Griffen got a little penetration up the middle and got a hand on the kicked ball.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.