The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is site of one of the most distinct home-field advantages in the NFL, and the Vikings experienced that atmosphere first-hand on Sunday. But despite falling behind 13-0 in the early stages and feeling a wave of momentum against them, the Vikings responded with vigor of their own, despite losing starting QB Matt Cassel and a few other starters, and gave the New Orleans Saints everything they could handle. It wasn't enough, unfortunately, as All-Pro QB Drew Brees and Co. put up enough points and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan's defense was stingy enough to keep the Vikings out of the end zone in a 20-9 Saints victory.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to New Orleans.
1. Zimmer's Defense is on the Right TrackThe disappointment of defeat leaves a sour taste, but the way the Vikings defense has played for long stretches this season has been encouraging. After giving up 13 quick points on Sunday, something Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer will take a hard look at early this week, the Vikings defense made adjustments and won their share of battles. Following the Saints second touchdown, here is the total yards gained and drive result of the next four series: 14 yards/punt; 21 yards/punt; 25 yards/punt; six yards/punt. That's exceptional defensive production against a high-octane offense, and it's reason for encouragement as the Vikings prepare this week for yet another high-flying attack – Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
2. Bridgewater Shows Promise, PoiseMatt Cassel was lost early in the 2nd quarter with a foot injury, opening the door for Teddy Bridgewater to make his regular season NFL debut. While Bridgewater did not lead the Vikings to a touchdown on the afternoon, the Vikings did outscore New Orleans 9-7 once he entered the game and the rookie quarterback showed plenty of signs of promise along the way. He made impressive throws outside the numbers down the field, driving the ball to open receivers and delivering on time. He was blitzed constantly by New Orleans, yet never panicked or made poor decisions that led to turnovers. Vikings coaches and players, including Zimmer, have said several times recently that Bridgewater was going to eventually be a good player in this League for a long time. On Sunday we saw several times when Bridgewater flashed this type of ability, and it'll be interesting to see what else he can show next week in a start against the Atlanta Falcons.
3. Red Zone Results Didn't Favor Vikings
New Orleans outscored the Vikings 20-9 on Sunday. Each team got to their respective point total with the same amount of scores, though – three. The Saints scored three touchdowns while the Vikings kicked three field goals. We often hear NFL coaches emphasize how important the red zone is, with most teams dedicating full periods of practice to red zone situations. The red zone certainly played a pivotal role in deciding Sunday's Vikings-Saints game. The Saints scored two touchdowns on three trips to the red zone, while the Vikings were touchdown-less in two trips to the red zone.
4. Vikings Having Trouble with Explosive Gains on the GroundProducing explosive ground gains hasn't been a problem for the Vikings in seven years because of the presence of Adrian Peterson. But Peterson is out of the lineup now, and that has caused the Vikings to lose their ability to explode on the ground. For the second consecutive week, the Vikings longest rush was produced by a quarterback and no Vikings running back rushed for more than 36 yards.
5. Brees Made 3rd Down a First-Rate ProblemDefensive coaches demand their units get off the field on 3rd downs. Third down is supposed to be a defensive down in the NFL, particularly when it's 3rd and more than 5. On Sunday, though, 3rd down was an offensive down for Brees and Co. The Saints converted nine of 13 3rd downs (69%), an incredibly impressive stat for any offense in the NFL. Fittingly, perhaps the game's biggest play came on a 3rd down. On the last play of the 3rd quarter, with the Vikings fighting and crawling back into the game and trailing just 13-9, the Saints faced a 3rd and 13 from their own 32. Zimmer dialed up a perfectly-timed and executed blitz from Brees' blindside, with CB Captain Munnerlyn and S Robert Blanton converging on Brees simultaneously. But officials flagged Munnerlyn for unnecessary roughness on the play, giving the Saints a free 1st down and opening the door for them to march 53 yards over the following seven plays to put up a game-clinching touchdown when Brees found WR Marques Colston from 18 yards out.