The New Orleans Saints fell to the referees, their own mistakes, and the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in London. Minnesota won on the scoreboard, 28-25, but the game was handed over to them in the fourth quarter by the officials.
New Orleans, now 1-3, didn't do themselves any favors. Their offense muddled through a first quarter of more subpar play and didn't even pick up their initial first down until early in the second quarter. Despite the injury absences of QB Jameis Winston, WR Michael Thomas, RB Alvin Kamara, and G Andrus Peat, the unit would rebound to roll up 312 yards and 25 points over the final three quarters.
Defensively, CB Marshon Lattimore had his hands full with Vikings star WR Justin Jefferson. Lattimore had his moments, but Jefferson pulled in 10 throws for 147 yards. Notorious Saints-killer Adam Thielen also gave the New Orleans defense nightmares again, catching 8 passes for 72 yards.
However, New Orleans played perhaps their best defensive game of the year against a talented Minnesota offense. If not for imagined and ‘‘convenient’’ penalties in the fourth quarter, the Saints bottled them up when it counted most.
Despite all the obstacles, whether self-inflicted, in the purple uniforms, or the black-and-white striped jerseys, New Orleans still had a chance to tie the game on the final play. A 61-yard field goal from Wil Lutz hit the left upright, then the crossbar to send the Saints careening to their third straight loss.
Here are some of the most notable ups and downs from a hard-fought New Orleans defeat.
In his first start as a Saint, the 34-year-old Dalton ran an efficient attack for most of the day. He completed 20 of 28 throws for 236 yards with a touchdown, 2-point conversion, and no interceptions. Dalton peppered Minnesota coverage all over the field and was especially precise in the short and intermediate areas.
The 12-year veteran found eight different receivers on the day. Despite having a hobbled Jarvis Landry and being without stars Thomas and Kamara, Dalton was able to sustain three long scoring drives that ended in touchdowns.
Dalton was 10 of 14 on three scoring drives in the second half and another that put his team in position to tie the game, which included a beautiful 32-yard strike to Chris Olave that set up the long field goal for Lutz.
Andy Dalton isn't as explosive as Jameis Winston, but showed that he could run this offense effectively, even with a short-handed unit. He read Minnesota's defense well and got the ball in the hands of his receivers with a chance to make plays.
There is no quarterback controversy in New Orleans. At least, not yet. However, Dalton played well enough that the Saints could decide to rest Winston and his injured back for another week.
- Latavius Murray
- Offensive Line
The Saints offensive line turned in their best outing of the young season. Dalton was rarely under heavy pressure and sacked just twice, with both of those being a result of good coverage by the Vikings. Even without Kamara, New Orleans was able to run the ball and rushed for 111 yards on the day, controlling the line of scrimmage well into the second half.
The beneficiary of the blocking up front was Latavius Murray, who was just added to the active roster on Saturday. The 32-year-old Murray showed no rust from not being on a roster this preseason. He ran powerfully, picking up 57 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries.
Lutz rebounded from a poor game at Carolina by nailing a career-high 60-yard field goal to tie the game with less than two minutes to go. Moments later, his 61-yard attempt had plenty of leg before glancing off the left upright and bouncing off the crossbar.
Punter Blake Gillikin also had a solid outing and is one of the league's most consistent players at the position. Outside of their two kickers, the Saints special teams were abysmal yesterday — and for most of the season.
Last week, New Orleans allowed a blocked field goal attempt. This week, the Saints surrendered a 13-yard pass on a fake punt that set up a Minnesota field goal.
Kick and punt coverage units have been awful. One Vikings kickoff return set them in good field position on one scoring drive yesterday. A 23-yard punt return put Minnesota at mid-field on another drive, but S Tyrann Mathieu bailed the unit out with the Saints first interception of the year. New Orleans is allowing over 10 yards per punt return this season and nearly 25 yards on kickoff returns.
The Saints kick return units are non-existent…..unless they are making back-breaking mistakes. Deonte Harty failed to get the ball to the 25-yard line on either of his kickoff returns yesterday.
Harty, who is averaging a putrid 2.7 yards per punt return this season, also fumbled the ball on a third quarter punt to set the Vikings up for an easy field goal. On that return, Harty had a clear lane outside for big yardage, but cut back into traffic and got stripped.
Twelve-year veteran Cam Jordan turned in his best outing of this four-game season. He split a sack with DE Marcus Davenport, his first of the year, and added 3 QB hits and six pressures of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. A disruptive force all game, Jordan was also blatantly held on two big plays that weren't called where he would have gotten to Cousins.
Jordan had six tackles against Minnesota and was just as effective as a run defender. He was in on four key bone-crunching stops of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook at the line of scrimmage to hold a play to a minimal gain.
Jordan was part of a standout performance by the Saints front seven that sacked Cousins three times, recorded nine QB hits, and held Cook to less than four yards per rush.
- Demario Davis
- Pete Werner
We've come to expect a fiery performance from Davis, who was all over the field on Sunday. He had a sack, one stop for loss among his nine total tackles, and several big plays in coverage. Not enough people are talking about Pete Werner, Davis’ running mate at linebacker.
Werner had nine tackles against Minnesota, including eight solo stops. It was his fourth straight game with at least eight tackles. Werner was just as instrumental in containing Dalvin Cook as his more celebrated defensive teammates, and continues to improve in coverage with each week.
The Saints have hurt themselves with self-inflicted mistakes all season and made their share in this loss. However, the amount of imagined, made-up or manufactured calls, and egregious infractions against them that are blatantly ignored deserve a different finger than a thumb down as a response.
This is not incompetent or inefficient officiating. It's become something far darker and more sinister than that, and it’s a problem that starts with the commissioner of the league.
Vikings-Saints Coverage From the Week
- Saints Passing Attack vs. Vikings Pass Defense
- Saints Rushing Attack vs. Vikings Run Defense
- Saints Pass Defense vs. Vikings Passing Attack
- Saints Run Defense vs. Vikings Running Attack
- Saints Announce 4 Moves Before Game Against Vikings