The Vikings entered Friday's game shorthanded on defense, and to say the Saints took advantage would be an understatement.
Alvin Kamara recorded career numbers, racking up 155 yards and six touchdowns (on just 22 carries) en route to New Orleans' 52-33 defeat of Minnesota.
A frustrated Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to media members after the game.
"We're a little under-manned, but they should play better than that," he said. "It wasn't so much the six touchdowns. It's more that they just they just mashed us up front. We couldn't slow them down. It would be an 8-yard gain, 7-yard gain. The first touchdown we fitted wrong with the linebackers, I believe. It was one of those kinds of days."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Saints on Christmas Day during Week 16.
The Vikings were without All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf) for the fourth straight game. Rookie linebacker Troy Dye (concussion/hamstring) and Todd Davis (ribs) also were sidelined, leaving Minnesota with next-to-no depth at the position. Hardy Nickerson and Blake Lynch – who led the team with 10 tackles – played alongside Eric Wilson in the team's base defense.
Minnesota also was without defensive end Jalyn Holmes and continues to be thin at cornerback.
But while the Vikings certainly were playing with a skeleton crew defensively, Zimmer noted that certain errors can't be attributed simply to inexperience.
"I don't think being young has anything to do with tackle. They manhandled us up front pretty well with the front guys and linebackers, but we didn't tackle," he said. "When we had chances, we didn't cover very well today. Defensive backs came off the receivers. It was disappointing."
Two of those less-seasoned players did nab takeaways for the Vikings, with Harrison Hand and Hardy Nickerson each picking off Brees for their first career interceptions. Unfortunately, winning the turnover battle didn't help on a day when the team otherwise couldn't contain its opponent.
"There were stretches in the game where we found a bit of who we are, we were able to make plays, turn the ball over and do those sorts of things, but we [also had] stretches where we couldn't hold it together as a defense, so we have to be able to find that consistency," safety Anthony Harris said.
Kamara wasn't the only one who gashed the Vikings. New Orleans amassed 583 yards of total offense, the most allowed by Minnesota in franchise history.
The Saints finished the evening with 264 yards rushing, with the help of 77 yards from former Vikings running back Latavius Murray. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook led New Orleans in receiving with 83 and 82 yards, respectively.
Quarterback Drew Brees performed modestly in his second game back after rib and lung injuries suffered in Week 10; the future Hall of Famer was 19-of-26 passing for 311 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 80.8. Minnesota had no sacks of Brees and recorded just one quarterback hit (Shamar Stephen).
Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill added two completions for eight yards in addition to 18 rushing yards and a late-game touchdown.
"That's not our brand of football. There's not our expectations and a level that we feel we can play at," Harris said. "So today it was just all-around very disappointing in terms of being able to stop the run, stop the pass and giving up explosive plays."
The Saints 52 points were the most allowed by the Vikings since 1963, when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 56-14.
"[I'm] really disappointed," Zimmer said. "You have to work really hard to give up 52."
Asked what needs to happen to get a once-highly touted defense back on track, Zimmer did point to getting healthy players back in the lineup.
He mentioned defensive linemen Danielle Hunter, who has missed the entire season with a neck injury, and Michael Pierce, who signed with Minnesota in free agency but opted out of the 2020 campaign due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've got to get [Anthony] Barr, Kendricks – Pro Bowl players, good players that we have – they need to be back," Zimmer said. "If you go back – and honest, I'm not trying to make excuses, it was embarrassing today – we're missing four defensive linemen, we're missing a safety, we're missing three corners, we're missing six linebackers, I believe, from where we started.
"We're just a little undermanned," he added. "[But that's] still no excuse. These guys put on an NFL jersey, they've got to play."
Friday's loss dropped the Vikings to 6-9 on the year and officially eliminated them from the postseason.
With one more game to go, a road contest against the Lions next week, Harris said it's important to play for pride.
"It's tough. Obviously coming into the season wanting to make it to the final game and do big things," Harris said. "Now at this point, each week is about going out there and representing your brand as Minnesota Vikings, as an individual, and how we want to be seen. Everybody has to go out there and do their job and give it their all in an effort to come out with the win."