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Action Reaction: Big Plays Allowed Costs Vikings Against Saints

The 2020 calendar is over for the Vikings, and the same is true for their thin playoff hopes.

A 52-33 loss to the Saints on Friday in New Orleans closed out Minnesota's final game in a year filled with strife. The Vikings have one more regular-season game (Jan. 3, 2021 at Detroit) before completely flipping to the next season.

In a must-win game, Minnesota (6-9) surrendered its most points since 1963 and most yards in 60 seasons to New Orleans, which clinched the NFC South for a fourth consecutive season, and takes an 11-4 record into next week's game at Carolina.

Pre-game question: Could the undermanned, underdog Vikings stun the Saints again?

It had been less than a full year since Minnesota traveled to New Orleans as a Wild Card entry and stunned the Saints 26-20 with an overtime victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Vikings offense kept things interesting for a bit on Friday, with Kirk Cousins throwing three touchdowns, and Dalvin Cook reaching an elite milestone, but Minnesota's deficiencies on defense were just too much.

Only four players who started in the January playoff game for Minnesota opened Friday's game: safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, linebacker Eric Wilson and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who has been tasked with playing the nose tackle spot that was manned by Linval Joseph last season.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Saints on Christmas Day during Week 16.

In-game action:

The Saints played like they were in the building to exact revenge on the team that had ended two of their past three trips to the postseason.

The Vikings were without a considerable number of defensive players who had helped end nice seasons in January 2018 via the "Minneapolis Miracle" and this past January in overtime.

After giving up big plays early in the season with inexperience in the secondary, Minnesota found success by bending but not breaking very often. The switch helped the Vikings reverse a 1-5 start with a 5-1 turnaround, but big plays have been surrendered in bunches in back-to-back weeks.

New Orleans had five plays gain 26 or more yards, including a 40-yard touchdown by Alvin Kamara to end the Saints first possession and a 41-yard kick-them-while-they're-down shot to tight end Adam Trautman just before the 2-minute warning in the fourth quarter. That play set up Kamara's sixth rushing touchdown of the night, which tied Minnesota native Ernie Nevers' NFL record set in 1929.

The Saints totaled seven plays that gained 21 or more yards on the night and 17 plays that gained 10 or more yards.

Add it all up, and Minnesota allowed a franchise-worst 583 yards of offense and the most points against since a 56-14 loss in 1963.

Minnesota's offense often did well, matching Kamara's first score with a drive that ended in a 15-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook, but the Vikings were playing uphill the whole game.

The Vikings had three possessions in the first half that netted a combined two first downs and 41 yards, including a three-and-punt that failed to capitalize on the first career interception by rookie Harrison Hand. The punt gave the Saints the ball at midfield and set up another touchdown that made it 24-14 at halftime.

Minnesota tried to answer that one, getting the ball back with 38 seconds remaining, but that possession wound up being a wash. Cousins' headset communication device went out after a 13-yard pass to Irv Smith, Jr., to the Minnesota 38-yard line.

The tight end was tackled with 26 seconds remaining, and Minnesota had one timeout left but hustled to the line of scrimmage. Unable to get the play in, the Vikings were shifting at the line as precious seconds ticked off the clock.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer called his final timeout with 12 seconds left. Minnesota followed with an 8-yard pass to Tyler Conklin but couldn't get another snap off.

Postgame reaction:

"Very disappointing defensively today. Couldn't stop the run, didn't cover well, couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback, didn't tackle. Very, very disappointing. I thought offensively we played well, moved the ball, ran the ball, did a nice job in protection for the most part, until it got to where we were throwing every down and they got some zero blitzes in there. Really disappointed defensively. You've gotta work really hard to give up 52 [points]."

— Zimmer

"No, I don't think being young has got anything to do with tackling. They manhandled us up front pretty well with the front guys and linebackers, but we didn't tackle. When we had chances, we didn't cover very well today. Defensive backs came off the receivers. It was disappointing."

— Zimmer

"When I think about us on offense, there were a lot of positives to point to. We weren't good enough on third down, staying on the field, to extend a couple drives and get more points. And we just weren't able to find a way to get the win. … Just feel like we let down our fans, and that's disappointing, gut-wrenching."

— Cousins

"We were backed up there, so to be able to get out of that field position so if we did end up punting, the field is flipped as opposed to punting back to midfield at worst-case scenario. But best-case scenario, you're obviously trying to get points off turnovers. It's certainly disappointing anytime you go three-an- out and [don't] sustain the drive longer."

— Cousins

"I believe that was the only time, yes. And it was frustrating. But you, we'll talk about it and try to be better in the future."

— Cousins on the headset problem at the end of the first half

"Not really sure. As for today there were mistakes at different levels that allowed that many explosive plays. We just have to find a way to be better as a defense. We can accept that mentality of bend-not-break, but today we weren't even able to execute in terms of holding them."

— Harris on the bend-but-don't-break approach breaking late in the season

"There were stretches in the game where we found a bit of who we are and were able to make plays and turn the ball over and do those sorts of things. We also had stretches where we can't hold it together on defense. We have to be able to find that consistency and go back to work."

— Harris