MINNEAPOLIS — Quarterback Kyle Rudolph wanted a first down.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer didn't want the ball to go back to Drew Brees in the final two minutes of the first half.
The Vikings got the first down and a lot more, winning a chess match that proved pivotal in the Vikings 29-19 win over the Saints to open the 2017 season.
New Orleans pinned the Vikings at their own 5-yard line with 1:43 before half.
Dalvin Cook rush for 5. Saints timeout.
Cook short reception for 4. Saints timeout.
Third-and-1 at the Minnesota 14, and the Vikings go back to the rookie running back, who uncorks a 10-yard gain that gives the Vikings room to breathe and Bradford a green light.
The quarterback connected with Adam Thielen for a gain of 44 two plays later and soon thereafter with Stefon Diggs for 20 more to the New Orleans 4. Diggs then secured a 2-yard touchdown catch, his second score of the night.
The Vikings executed 10 plays in 1:40, marching 95 yards and securing a 10-point halftime lead.
"When we got the ball back there, the first goal is to get it out of there and flip the field position," Bradford said. "But then when they start calling timeouts and giving us a little more time, obviously we knew once we got that 1st first down we were going into two-minute, and we were going to try and make something happen.
"We've done a lot of situational stuff in OTAs and training camp this year," Bradford added. "I thought our guys responded really well. … I think that was kind of a momentum shifter for us."
When asked about the sequence in which Minnesota was aggressive with passes, Zimmer said, "I did say I don't want to give the ball back to Brees, but I'm not going to stifle in that situation.
"I obviously know who the quarterback is that we're playing, and I know his ability level," Zimmer added. "I thought we took our shots and made them."
Bradford's big night
Bradford finished the evening 27-of-32 passing for 346 yards with three touchdowns and a career-best passer rating of 143. His 84.4 completion percentage was the best by a Vikings quarterback in a Week 1 game, and his passer rating is fourth all-time in the team's first game of a season.
Asked what it meant for Bradford to have such a strong performance in Week 1, Zimmer quipped, "Well, I hope he has them 16 weeks."
"You know, I keep telling everybody, Sam is as accurate as there is, took good care of the football, made great decisions tonight, got us in and out of a lot of the right plays," Zimmer said. "Again, the offensive line really gave him time. He was able to hit some of the underneath things, we were able to hit some shots down the field. We got Thielen on some big plays. I just thought [Offensive Coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] did a nice job of calling the game, and I thought we did a nice job executing."
Thielen led the Vikings with nine receptions for 157 yards, averaging 17.4 per catch and benefitting from adjustments that Vikings coaches and Bradford made in response to the Saints defense. Thielen's yardage is the second-highest total for a Vikings receiver in a Week 1 game behind Ahmad Rashad's 160 in 1980.
"Football is all about reaction. You can game-plan and think, 'This is going to be open,' but at the same time, they're game-planning for you and are going to try to take away things," Thielen said. "For us, we're worried about getting open and beating the guy over the top of us and letting Sam do his job."
Diggs became the first Viking to have two touchdown catches in a Week 1 game since Randy Moss in 2004.
Run for the win
A football adage is "throw the ball to score, run the ball to win." The Vikings were able to capitalize on explosive pass plays to produce points and close out the Saints by pounding the ball with Cook, who had runs of 32 and 33 yards in the fourth quarter.
Cook became the first Vikings rookie running back to start in Week 1 since Michael Bennett in 2001 and only the fourth player to do so. He, center Pat Elflein and linebacker Ben Gedeon became the second first-year trio to start a season opener, joining D.J. Dozier, Wymon Henderson and Henry Thomas in 1987.
"We wanted him to get 100 yards rushing to kind of close the game out," Elflein said. "We did that, so it was kind of a sense of pride.
"I was really excited for Dalvin," Elflein added. "I think he's a special player, and I'm excited he's on our team."
Cook finished with 127 yards on 22 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt. He also totaled 10 yards on three receptions.
First in 55
Elflein became the first Viking to start at center in a season opener since Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff did so in 1962.
Elflein was asked if he was anxious.
"Yeah, not the 55-years thing, but just a rookie starting in the first game," Elflein said. "I think you're going to have nerves every game. The exciting atmosphere and *Monday Night Football *and all amped it up.
"I just wanted to be calm and not overwhelm myself because I knew that was not going to do me any good, especially with having to make calls and make sure everyone is on the same page," Elflein added. "It really just goes into your preparation. Work hard, study and on game day, you just let it go."