It was a slow start to Monday night with the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings grinding out long drives to start the game, but the Vikings found a rhythm in the second quarter and cruised away from the Saints for a 29-19 win.
The New Orleans offense started the game with a 13-play drive, but had to settle for a field goal from Wil Lutz. It ended up being a sign of what was to come in the remainder of the game, as Lutz had to kick three more field goals when lengthy Saints drives fizzled in the red zone.
The Saints didn’t score a touchdown until less than two minutes were left in the game.
For the Vikings, the game started the same way: A 14-play drive that didn’t end with a touchdown, but a chip shot field goal instead. But the Minnesota offense caught fire and Sam Bradford easily picked apart the Saints secondary for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Here were the big winners and losers from the first game of the Week 1 doubleheader on Monday:
Late in the second quarter, Bradford threw a pass that probably should’ve been picked off by Cameron Jordan. Other than that, Monday was pretty much a perfect night for the Vikings quarterback.
He couldn’t miss receivers and tore apart the Saints secondary with huge chunks of yardage at a time. Bradford has a reputation for playing conservatively, but let it loose against New Orleans and put together the best single game stats of his career.
With Teddy Bridgewater close to being ready for a return, a performance like this will keep people from calling for the former first-round pick to come back quick.
The best running back in Vikings history was on the other sideline, but Cook didn’t look overwhelmed by the moment. He dropped a pass and took a while to get going, but started breaking off bigger runs as the game went on. In the second half he burst down the right sideline twice for gains of 32 and 33 yards.
By the end of the game, Cook had 127 yards on 22 carries, a record for a Vikings rookie making his debut — topping who else but Peterson.
It’s an even stronger performance for the Vikings considering the team collectively averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in 2016.
We’ll throw the Saints a bone here. There’s reason to be optimistic about the selection of Ryan Ramczyk, who had the tall task of starting at left tackle for a pass-happy offense against a scary defense in his first career game.
Ramczyk more than held his own against Everson Griffen, who went to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen
It was Randy Moss night in Minnesota, but the Vikings didn’t look like they needed the ESPN analyst to suit up. Diggs finished with seven receptions, 93 yards and two touchdowns, and Thielen finished with nine receptions and 157 yards.
Diggs also gave us some good celebrations, including a tribute to Moss combined with a Milly Rock.
The Vikings offense looks like it has plenty of weapons for the rest of the NFL to be worried about.
Vikings offensive line
Bradford, Diggs, and Thielen were all on the team last year, but struggled to get going because of an offensive line that couldn’t protect the quarterback much or pave the way for the running backs.
That wasn’t the case Monday with a Vikings offensive line that was brand new and featured several players making their debut with the team. There are better pass rushes in the NFL than New Orleans, but this is a good start for the Vikings.
Another year, another Saints defense that doesn’t look up to par. Bradford wasn’t pressured, Cook wasn’t slowed down, and the Vikings wide receiver ran wild.
The team attempted to add pieces on defense in the offseason, but it still doesn’t look like a unit that’s ready to stop many offenses and that’s going to be especially bad if the offense continues to struggle to get touchdowns instead of field goals.
Monday could’ve been Peterson’s triumphant return to the place he played for 10 seasons, but instead it was a long night of watching from the sideline. He hardly saw the field and had to split time with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Peterson finished with just six carries for 18 yards. Neither Ingram nor Kamara posted incredible stats that would lock down a bigger role either, making the backfield a crowded problem for Sean Payton to deal with.
The defense struggled again, the offense didn’t get a single touchdown until it was too late, and now Payton appears to have a running back problem to deal with. A two-headed attack is one thing, but touches start getting thin when they’re split between three players.
Peterson has averaged about 20 carries per game over the course of his career and probably isn’t going to be fine with continuing to get just a handful of touches per game. It could be a rough season for Payton to deal with.
The former Raiders running back was supposed to be the one to carry the torch now that Peterson is in New Orleans, but Cook may have snagged it Monday.
Despite receiving a three-year, $15 million contract, Murray touched the ball just twice against the Saints for 6 yards while Cook stole the show. Even Jerick McKinnon got three carries. Murray didn’t look like a piece that the Vikings need at this point.