MINNEAPOLIS — Allow the Vikings defensive backs to reintroduce themselves. "The Closers" have arrived.
"We got to be the ones [to close] because the ball is going to be in the air and one of us has to make a play," Vikings safety Camryn Bynum said. "We pride ourselves on being the people that are going to close the game and be the ones that step up when it's time to step up."
Minnesota forced interceptions on the two of the Saints final three possessions to seal a 27-19 victory over New Orleans Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It marked the fourth time in five games the Vikings have forced multiple turnovers.
The Vikings defense held the Saints to 280 yards and 4-for-14 on third downs. The offense scored points on five of its first six possessions, including three consecutive touchdowns from the end of the first quarter to the 16-second mark of the second quarter. Over that same span, the Saints offense ran eight plays.
The Vikings held an opponent under 20 points for the fourth time in five games.
"I thought our staff did a hell of a job today, especially Flo' [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores] and his guys," O'Connell said. "For our defense to keep them out and let us hold on to that victory, I was really proud of those guys."
The Saints outscored Minnesota 16-3 in the second half, but cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Byron Murphy, Jr., intercepted New Orleans backup quarterback Jameis Winston on consecutive drives in the final three-plus minutes. Winston got one more shot, but his last heave to the end zone fell incomplete to end the game.
Blackmon, a third-round rookie, earned a game ball for recording his first career NFL interception. He saw and expanded role after starter Akayleb Evans left the game with a calf injury.
"It's still surreal," Blackmon said of his first interception. "It probably won't hit me until I see my mom and family outside. It's all surreal, but I'm thankful for it."
Minnesota needed nearly every bit of its 21-point halftime lead to hold off the Saints. Flores kept attacking to start the third quarter.
Trailing by 21 entering the second half, the Saints needed to string some plays together to keep up with an explosive first-half Vikings offense.
Facing third-on-1, Saints running back Jamaal Williams took an inside handoff but was stuffed by a surging Jordan Hicks and Harrison Phillips. The run gained no yards, evident by their joint celebration.
The Saints were going to go for it despite being backed up inside their 30-yard line. Then Vikings fans started roaring. The nearly 67,000 in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium were so loud that the Saints committed a false start on their most critical snap of the game. Flores excitedly punched the air as the Vikings punt return unit raced onto the field.
The Saints did not score a touchdown until late in the third quarter via a 14-yard reception by receiver Chris Olave.
Saints quarterback Derek Carr exited the game three plays prior with a concussion and right shoulder injury. He'd already been hit five times and sacked twice before taking a clean high-low hit from Jaquelin Roy and Danielle Hunter. Carr stayed down briefly before walking off the field with Saints medical staff.
"He's a guy who's going to who is going to take risks. But our coaches have been telling us about deep balls all week. We thought Carr was going to the guy to do it," Blackmon said. "Sad he went down and hope he heals up real fast. But when Jamies [Winston] came in, we were all talking about how he is going to give us a shot. So just stay on top. When the ball comes, make sure you catch it."
On the next series, Hunter picked up his 11th sack of the season and the 82nd of his career. The Pro Bowl rusher has recorded at least one sack in eight games, the most in the NFL.
"I mean at this point, we're used to it. We like being in situations like that. It's fun being uncomfortable out there," Hunter said. "And everybody's trying to embrace that. So from here on for the rest of the year that is something that we're looking forward to."
D.J. Wonnum earned his first game ball this season for his one sack and four tackle performance. Wonnum came up big on consecutive plays to force a Saints three-and-out on their third possession. On second-and-5, Wonnum beat Saints left tackle Andrus Peat and sacked Carr for a loss of 6 yards. Then, on third-and-11, Carr scrambled and nearly converted, but Wonnum dove, making a shoelace tackle that forced a Saints punt on fourth-and-1.
"D.J. has been as consistent as any player on our football team," O'Connell said. "And Danielle has been outstanding, but I think D.J. has fed off that as well. We ask him to do a lot of different jobs and he just keeps doing it week after week."
Hicks finished with a team-high seven tackles despite not finishing the game with a calf injury. Linebacker Troy Dye notched four tackles in relief of Hicks. Harrison Smith, Josh Metellus, Ivan Pace, Jr., and Phillips all had five tackles each.
The Vikings have won five consecutive games after starting 1-4. However, this win was extra special for Bynum. For the first time, his wife Lalaine attended a Vikings game after coming from the Philippines to America.
Bynum, who entered Sunday having played 604 of a possible 605 defensive snaps, nearly created a movie moment for Lalaine.
Just a minute into the fourth quarter, Bynum intercepted a deflected pass from Winston. The pass was intended for Rashid Shaheed, but Murphy popped it in the air, and Bynum trapped it for what was initially ruled an interception.
Bynum, Metellus, Blackmon, Murphy and a contingent of the Vikings defense raced into the northeast end zone for another choreographed celebration. Afterward, Bynum found his wife near Section 122 and tossed her the football.
After review, however, the play was reversed, and the Saints scored seven plays later.
"I think I need to close my elbows a little more," Bynum said. "But we came out with a win. I'm happy to be near the ball. I just got to continue to do the right things to be by the ball to come down with it next time."
Not only did Lalaine Bynum leave with a game ball, but Camryn Bynum also gifted her his game jersey. It was a special afternoon for the Bynums, who also had their Pastor visiting from the Philippines and family from California, too.
"She was crying. She's emotional. I gave her my game jersey from the day. It probably stunk, but she was emotional," Bynum said "We had a lot of people here to experience her first game. So it was her day, not mine."
After the game, Bynum thanked everyone who helped expedite her process.
"The senator's office, Minnesota 8, our immigration attorney, God first and foremost, the embassy in the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy. Really there's so many people to name I don't want to single anybody out and forget anybody," Bynum said. "But especially the people that were able to share it. Everybody was willing to really just put it out there in the media. Those specific people that were really big part of this putting this team together."