NEW ORLEANS A lot of thoughts raced through my mind Monday night while watching the Minnesota Vikings dismantle the New Orleans Saints on a national stage at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
Don’t be misled by the final score — 29-19. It wasn’t that close.
Former Vikings/current Saints running back Adrian Peterson barely broke a sweat in his much-ballyhooed homecoming. In nine uneventful snaps, “All Day’’ produced 18 yards rushing on a career-low six totes. Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook stole the show in his debut, running for 127 yards on 22 carries to break Peterson’s franchise record for most rushing yards by a rookie in his debut.
In fact, Peterson’s first game with the Saints may best be remembered for a first-half sideline exchange with Saints Sean Payton. Much to do about nothing, Payton said afterward, “and I am being honest.”
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Let’s go to the good news first.
Thank goodness the Saints had kicker Wil Lutz (13 points, perfect on four FG attempts) and punter Thomas Morstead (53.3-yard average with a long of 68). And finally, yes finally, 15 games remain in the regular season, including Sunday’s home opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who also are 0-1.
OK, now to the cold, hard facts.
The 2016 regular season ended on Jan. 1. Since then, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, Payton and their football operations were given all the necessary resources by owner Tom Benson to upgrade a roster and put a better product on the field.
I would love to know Benson’s first impression.
He can’t be happy with the offense, and that includes quarterback Drew Brees.
They squandered multiple opportunities in the red zone (one TD, five trips). Pass protection was poor, especially when right tackle Zach Strief exited in the second quarter with a sprained left knee putting overnatched backup Senio Kelemete in an untenable situation. (Strief reportedly suffered a sprained MCL and will be out four to five weeks.)
The offense also had no game changing plays from running backs Mark Ingram, rookie Alvin Kamara and Peterson, and a receiving corps led by Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn.
Through three quarters, when it counted most, Brees & Co. had produced nine points and fewer than 200 total yards. In the fourth quarter, when the Vikings defense retreated and essentially played not to give up splash plays, Brees matched his passing yards total through three quarters. He dinked and dunked his way to 15 of 17 for 142 yards and one TD.
Benson also can’t be happy with his team’s rebuilt defense which looked so promising during the preseason under coordinator Dennis Allen. After one game, the Saints defense finds itself ranked No. 29 leaguewide, two spots below where it finished last season.
Other than defensive end Cam Jordan (1 sack, 2 QB hits), the Saints pass rush rarely made Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford squirm in the pocket. Working behind five new offensive linemen, Bradford patiently picked apart the Saints youthful secondary, completing 27 of 32 passes (84.4 completion percentage) for 346 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a stellar 143.0 passer rating.
Even with a receiver-depleted offense, if the Saints don’t get more pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, it could be a long afternoon ... and a fourth consecutive 0-2 start for the Black and Gold.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.