Minnesota Vikings fans woke up Tuesday all smiles and happily surprised after they thoroughly beat the New Orleans Saints 29-19 to open the regular season.
Monday night’s result makes it pretty clear just how meaningless the preseason was for the Vikings. They had trouble running the ball, the offensive line was inconsistent and the Vikings defense gave up big plays. Fans were anxious about several things as the Vikings headed into their first meaningful game of the year.
The result? Quarterback Sam Bradford played arguably the best game of his career, Dalvin Cook made history in his debut and the Vikings’ defense bent, but didn’t break against Drew Brees and the Saints.
It wasn’t perfect, though. Kai Forbath did miss an extra point. Regardless, here are four takeaways from the Vikings’ victory and 1-0 start.
Dalvin Cook Shines in Debut
A lot of the talk heading into the game was Adrian Peterson’s return to Minnesota, but Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook grabbed the spotlight. Peterson matched a career low with being on the field for just nine snaps. He had six carries for 18 yards. He also was targeted by Drew Brees in a red zone passing situation, but ran out of bounds and became an ineligible receiver.
For the Vikings, Cook gashed the New Orleans defense for 127 yards on 22 carries. That breaks the previous record for a rookie running back in his debut, set by Peterson. Cook’s longest run went for 33 yards. He also had three catches for 10 yards, and was on the field for a key third down, picking up a blitz when Bradford looked like he would be sacked. Cook is just getting started, but his performance Monday night on the national stage should have fans excited.
Sam Bradford Carves Up Saints Defense
The Vikings’ offensive line clicked Monday night, with five new starters. And Sam Bradford took advantage. After getting comfortable with a few short throws, similar to what we saw most of last year, Bradford gained confidence and started taking chances downfield. Bradford finished 27 of 32 passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. He found Stefon Diggs, who finished with seven catches for 93 yards, for two touchdowns. He also found Kyle Rudolph for a score. Adam Thielen broke out as a downfield threat with nine catches for 157 yards, and his longest catch was 44 yards. The Vikings collected 470 total yards, which is tough to fathom after last year’s struggles.
While the Saints secondary has its weaknesses, it was a welcomed surprise to see Bradford stepping up and throwing the ball down the field. Much of that credit goes to the offensive line, which allowed just one sack and gave Bradford time to find his receivers. He’s shown that he’s incredibly accurate when he has time.
Vikings Defense Bends, Doesn’t Break
The Vikings’ defense on Monday looked like the group that started 5-0 last season, and not the group that gave up big plays in the preseason. Brees ended up throwing for 291 yards and a touchdown, which didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter with the game in hand. The Saints ran for 57 total yards, Brees was under pressure most of the game and was sacked once by Everson Griffen.
The key sequence might have come in the first series. Tom Johnson appeared to sack Brees, but was flagged on a questionable call for a low hit. The sack would’ve gotten the defense off the field, but instead the Saints got a first down. They got deep into Vikings territory, but were held to a field goal. A touchdown there and the game likely would’ve taken a much different turn. Instead, the Vikings limited the Saints to four field goals and a late touchdown with the game decided.
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 12, 2017
Adrian Peterson’s Quiet Return
Adrian Peterson made his return to Minnesota, but he was a bigger story on the sideline than on the field. Peterson finished with just 18 yards rushing and only saw the field for nine snaps. He was seen on the ESPN broadcast voicing his displeasure with head coach Sean Payton on the team’s sideline, leaving some to wonder if Peterson will last with the Saints.
Maybe the more surprising part of the night was Peterson getting booed by fans at U.S. Bank Stadium when he came on the field for the Saints’ first offensive series. The Vikings cut him in the offseason, so it wasn’t his choice to leave. Regardless, Peterson left town both disappointed with his lack of playing time and with a loss.
Now that Vikings fans have seen their team play well in a meaningful game, can it continue? The next test is Sunday at Pittsburgh, which won’t be easy. We should enjoy it for now, because the Steelers defense should give the Vikings a much tougher test.