The Vikings opened the 2017 season in style, inducting Randy Moss into their Ring of Honor while defeating the New Orleans Saints 29-19 as part of the season-opening Monday Night Football double-header. Here are seven observations from the Vikings season-opening win.
1. Sam Bradford put on a clinic
Sam Bradford was protected well and he made the most of his time in the pocket. Bradford had just five incompletions on the night, connecting with his receivers 27 times for 346 yards and three touchdowns in what was his best performance as a member of the Vikings. Even when the Saints did pressure him, Bradford stood tall in the pocket and delivered accurate throws to his receivers. And Bradford was clutch on the money down, going nine of 11 for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 3rd downs.
2. Defense found a way to contain Brees
Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 291 yards passing, but he didn't eclipse the 100-yard mark until 3:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter and he didn't find the end zone until the Vikings had the game in hand. Brees didn't throw an interception and was sacked just once, but he never settled into a groove and was forced to throw early and inaccurately with Vikings pass rushers bearing down on him.
3. Dalvin Cook kept grinding
In his NFL debut, Cook had to earn every inch. He had only seven yards rushing on his first six carries, but he and his offensive line kept grinding and eventually they broke through. After rushing for 22 yards on 10 carries in the first half, Cook has rushes of seven and 10 yards early in the 3rd quarter and then broke off 32- and 33-yard runs in the second half to finish the night with 127 yards on 22 carries. It was the running game that helped seal the win late, with the 33-yard dash by Cook around right end putting him over 100 for the night and putting the game on ice.
4. Offensive line debuted well
Speaking of debuts, it was the debut for the Vikings starting offensive line. The combination of Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers (from left to right) had not actually played together in a game until Monday night. But they looked like a group in synch, allowing just one sack of Bradford and eventually paving the way for Cook and the running game to wear down the Saints defense.
5. Diggs and Thielen couldn't be stopped
Given their production, it's probably not right it's taken this long to mention the impact Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had on the game. Diggs torched the Saints in the first half with six receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Thielen took over in the second half and finished the game with team-highs in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (157). Together, Bradford completed 16 passes on 18 targets to his top two receivers and they pair combined for 250 of the 346 yards through the air.
6. Vikings won in the red zone
Converting red zone possessions into touchdowns and holding opponents to field goals on their red zone possessions is key to victory in the NFL. The Vikings did both well on Monday night. The offense was three of six (50%) in the red zone, while the defense held New Orleans out of the end zone on four of five red zone possessions.
7. End of 1st half game management, execution was perfect
New Orleans kicked a field goal to go up 6-3 with 5:30 to go in the 2nd quarter. Over the next nine minutes of game time, the Vikings would score the next 16 points thanks to proper execution and clock management late in the first half and a quality drive to open the second half. Following the Saints second field goal of the game, Bradford took the field and completed three consecutive passes of 35, 21 and 18 yards to Thielen, Jarius Wright and Diggs, respectively, with the 18-yarder to Diggs going for a score that put the Vikings ahead 10-6 with 4:13 to go in the 2nd quarter. The Vikings defense forced a three-and-out on the Saints ensuing possession, then drove 95 yards in 10 plays and 1:40 to score another touchdown on a pass to Diggs and take a 16-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Vikings drove 54 more yards on eight plays in 3:53 to tack on a field goal to open the 3rd quarter and their lead had expanded to 19-6 at that point.