Bayou bummer: Offense off-kilter in 14-9 loss

New Orleans was known for their high-powered offense on its way to the Super Bowl last year, but it was their defense that seemed to confuse the Vikings on the way to a 14-9 Saints win.

The Saints went marching down the throats of the Vikings in their first drives of each half, and that's all New Orleans needed to start up the party once again.

A game that was expected to be high-powered turned out to be highly confusing for the offenses, especially for the Vikings. There was no 475-yard output like they had in the NFC Championship Game. This time, the Vikings had to settle for 253 yards and only one touchdown.

The lack of offense allowed the Saints to win by putting together two touchdown drives, one at the beginning of each half, on their way to a 14-9 win Thursday night.

Minnesota's defense kept Saints QB Drew Brees mostly in check, limiting him to 27 of 36 passing for 237 yards and a touchdown, but he started out hot and the Saints turned to their running game in the second half. Pierre Thomas ended with 71 yards on 19 carries after gaining only 1 yard on two attempts in the first half.

It was the Saints' change-ups that kept Minnesota's defense off-kilter just enough, but it the Vikings' changing offense that struggled as well. QB Brett Favre never looked in sync with his receivers. With Sidney Rice out at least six weeks following his hip surgery last month, million-dollar receiver Bernard Berrian caught only one pass for three yards. Percy Harvin had only one catch for 12 yards, and none of the Vikings' wide receivers had more than one catch.

Instead, Favre was forced to rely on TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who had four catches for 76 yards and his two running backs, Adrian Peterson and Albert Young, who combined for five catches for 25 yards.

Without a consistent passing game, the Vikings tried to rely on Peterson, who paced the game with 87 yards on 19 carries, but it wasn't enough.

The Saints took the excitement of the Superdome's welcome-back party and quickly transformed that into a 7-0 lead. Brees started the game on fire, connecting with Marques Colston for 28 yards and Lance Moore for 12 yards. The highest-rated quarterback of 2009 targeted the middle of the field to start the drive, but he hit paydirt on the outside, buying time with his feet and then finding Devery Henderson behind Asher Allen for a 29-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead just more than two minutes into the game.

As it turned out, that would be the Saints' best drive of the first half as penalties and the Vikings defense caught up to them.

The Vikings, meanwhile, struggled offensively in the first quarter. The Saints held a 138-45 advantage in total yards after one period, but could only manage seven points and were clearly in pass mode with only 8 rushing yards. But the Vikings could only muster 45 yards of offense – 23 rushing and 22 passing – in the first quarter.

The success factor reversed in the second quarter. In their first drive of the quarter, the Vikings went 16 plays, with only two of them gaining 10 or more yards. It started with a heavy dose of Peterson, who picked up 19 yards on the first four plays, but the key was a 14-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe on third-and-11 that put the Vikings across midfield for the first time in the game. Peterson went back to work, picking up 25 yards with four straight runs, but the Vikings had to settle for a field goal when Bernard Berrian dropped a third-down pass. Ryan Longwell put the first Vikings points on the board with a 41-yard field goal with 5:28 to play in the half.

The Vikings avoided giving points right back despite a bad throw from Favre under pressure that Jonathan Vilma intercepted, setting up the Saints on the Minnesota 29-yard line. The defense held, and this time Garrett Hartley hooked his 46-yard attempt wide left.

That gave the Vikings 1:19 to operate in the first half, starting from the New Orleans 36. The short passing game picked up one first down, but Favre exploited the deep middle of the Saints defense on consecutive plays with Shiancoe. The first was a 33-yarder to the 20-yard line, but a leaping catch in the end zone on the second one gave the Vikings their first touchdown of the season and a 9-7 lead after the extra point was blocked.

That score held the remaining 34 seconds until halftime, but, just like they started the game, the Saints opened the second half with a touchdown drive. This time, however, they used a balanced attack. In fact, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush started with four straight runs totaling 22 yards, and they continued to work Thomas into the middle of the field before he dove 1 yard across the goal line for a 14-9 Saints lead midway through the third quarter.

For much of the next 10 minutes, it was a defensive slugfest, but the Saints moved into scoring position early in the fourth quarter. Once again, Hartley pulled his kick – this one from only 32 yards out – and the Vikings were still within a touchdown of the lead with 9:10 to play, but this time they had protection issues.

Needing a score against an aggressive defense, the Vikings were forced to shuffle their offensive line as Bryant McKinnie left the game with a dislocated finger, forcing Phil Loadholt to left tackle and Ryan Cook into the game at right tackle. After picking up one first down on a 29-yard pass to Greg Camarillo, that shift in the offensive line cost them. On the next play, Loadholt was flagged for holding DE Will Smith and the offense never recovered … and never saw the field again.

The Saints continued their second-half theme and found cutback lanes in the running game, but it was passes to Heath Evans on play-action and then to Henderson against Lito Sheppard that picked up two first downs and ran out the clock.

The Saints threw the Vikings a few curves on offense and defense, but most of the Vikings' offensive struggles seemed self-inflicted with a lack of cohesion between Favre and the receivers, which was enough to let only two Saints touchdowns win the game.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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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