Turning point: Early Saints drives enough

The Vikings defense stopped the high-powered Saints more often than not, but two drives to open the halves were all New Orleans needed to defeat Minnesota, 14-9.

There is something to be said about the adrenaline that a home crowd can generate in an offense. For a team known for its high-octane offense, the Saints came out of both halves with very different drives that had the same result – scoring their only 14 points to get a fan-aided turning point of the game.

The Saints didn't look like they missed a beat from the potent offense that set the standard in the NFL last year. They took the opening kickoff and opted to attack the Vikings' injury-depleted secondary. Starting from his own 23-yard line, Drew Brees fired a 28-yard pass to Marques Colston on the first play of the game, moving the Saints into Vikings territory and putting their fans in a frenzy. It only got louder when Brees zipped a 12-yard pass to Lance Moore for another first down on the next play.

The Vikings forced the Saints into their first third-down situation two plays later with a third-and-2 from the 29-yard line. The Vikings dialed up a blitz and Brees rolled away from it, finding Devery Henderson for a 29-yard touchdown after beating Asher Allen as the play broke down and Henderson improvised. It looked like the Saints of 2009, as they took a 7-0 lead just 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the game.

After that initial burst, the Vikings defense stepped up. Three of the Saints' next four drives had just three offensive plays each – two drives ending in punts and a third with a missed field goal. The Vikings offense put together a pair of scoring drives to take a 9-7 lead with a chance to put an imprint on the game getting the ball to start the second half.

As it was in the first half, the crowd got back into being deafening – making it hard for the Vikings to operate. They ran three straight times to start the quarter and, when Brett Favre had a pass fall incomplete on a nice play by Saints CB Jabari Greer, the Vikings had to punt just 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the third quarter – the exact amount of time it had taken the Saints to put seven points on the board to start the game.

With his hands on the ball again and the Saints crowd back into throat-hoarsening scream mode, the Saints offense clicked like it was a practice session against the scout team.

The Saints had run the ball just three times in the first half – two of them coming in the last two minutes of the first half after starting the game passing on 21 of their first 22 plays. This time around, they looked like a different team, running the ball effectively and almost at will.

Pierre Thomas, who had just two carries for one yard in the first half, teamed up with Reggie Bush. The Saints ran the ball on their first four plays of the game. Thomas picked up a first down with a 10-yard run to move the chains, which was followed up by runs of 7 yards by Bush and 5 yards by Thomas to get the ball across midfield.

One play later, Thomas took a 5-yard carry for another first down. After Brees got the Saints deep into Vikings territory with completions of 14 yards to Colston and a 15-yard screen to Thomas, the Saints let Thomas cap the drive. He carried twice from the 6-yard line and scored on a 1-yard run to close out an 11-play drive that covered 74 yards and took 6:43 off the clock.

The Vikings defense would keep the Saints off the scoreboard the rest of the game. While not as dominant as they were following the first-half drive, the inability to stop the Saints on their first drive of both the first and second half gave the Vikings a deficit they couldn't overcome in a 12-man version of the turning point.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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