Third Downs Eat Away At Vikings

Emmitt Thomas' defense was put in a terrible position most of the game, but it also gave ground when it could least afford it -- allowing the Saints to capitalize with scoring opportunities.

Nothing takes the steam out of a team more than allowing an opponent to convert third downs. While some are unavoidable — third-and-inches usually translates into a first down — it is when a team converts long first downs or consistently converts first downs that it can sap the life out of an opponent. Sunday the Saints created the turning points of the game not only with big defensive plays like a touchdown or a stopped touchdown by Cris Carter, but by consistently demoralizing the Vikings defense on third down.

With the Saints leading 3-0 in the first quarter, the Vikes had two chances to end the drive without points, but the Saints converted one first down by a forward fumble from Ricky Williams. Then, facing third-and-10 from the Minnesota 44, a 38-yard bomb to Willie Jackson converted another. Those two conversions led to a field goal and a 6-0 Saints lead.

After falling behind 7-6, the Saints again burned the Vikings on third down, as New Orleans converted four third-down plays — including a third-and-10 with a 10-yard pass and a third-and-7 with a 16-yard pass. Those critical third-down conversions led to a touchdown and a 12-7 lead. By the time the game went to halftime, the Saints had failed to convert only three third downs in the half. However, those three failed third-down conversions resulted in three field goals and a 15-7 halftime lead.

Flash forward to the second half. With the Vikings still just one touchdown (and a 2-point conversion) behind at 15-7, the defense had a chance to stop the Saints on the opening series of the half. Instead, an 8-yard pass to Jackson on third-and-7 kept the drive going and got the Saints into scoring position for another field goal and an 18-7 lead.

By the time the Saints offense got back on the field, the third quarter was over and the defense had tacked on another touchdown to give the offense a 25-15 lead. The fifth failed third-down conversion didn't come until less than nine minutes remained in the game and, you guessed it, by the time it came about the Saints were again in field goal position with John Carney ready to hit a fifth field goal.

It was only when the Saints had the game in the bag that they got conservative to eat clock and didn't have to punt the ball until little more than six minutes remained in the game. While the Vikings defense played admirably under the circumstances — allowing the Saints offense just one touchdown — the bottom line was that New Orleans scored seven times in the game. The Saints didn't do it with big plays or piling on touchdowns. They did it by moving the chains, converting third downs and creating their own turning point of the game. VU

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