Winfield's will: Little CB comes up big

The Vikings were full of big plays, both good and bad, but Antoine Winfield had the big first-half plays and a stats sheet full of evidence after the game. Plus, get more than 40 game-night notes that help tell the story of Minnesota's 30-27 win.

What separates the NFL from the other major sports is that every game counts. It doesn't have the 162-game marathon of Major League Baseball – a two-game losing streak in the NFL is the equivalent to a 20-game losing streak in MLB. There isn't intentional stalling like there is in the NHL to be guaranteed an overtime point. There isn't the meaningless nature of the regular season in the NBA, where it seems teams don't ramp up their defense until the final five minutes of games. Every game counts and every play counts.

It could be argued that the Vikings had their season on the line Monday night. A loss would have dropped them to 1-4 and 1-2 in the conference. Every player needed to make plays to save the season and the smallest starter on the field was living large, as 5-9, 180-pound cornerback Antoine Winfield put in one of the dominating defensive performance by a Viking in recent years.

Winfield was instrumental in keeping the Saints from blowing out the Vikings early, making tackles and big plays throughout the game. Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, Winfield was the man in the right place at the right time, catching a blocked field goal and not missing a beat, running the ball 59 yards the other way for a touchdown. Instead of being down 10-0, the Vikings had tied the game 7-7.

With the game tied 10-10 on the first play of the second quarter, Winfield replicated the play that shifted momentum against Carolina with a corner blitz on Drew Brees in which he was looking to the left side of the offense with Winfield coming from the right side. He drilled Brees and simply grabbed the ball away from him, spinning in hopes of another touchdown. He was brought down on the Saints 5-yard line, which led to a Vikings touchdown that gave Minnesota a 17-10 lead.

For the game, Winfield finished with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a special teams touchdown. In a game that could have turned on numerous occasions, Winfield brought everything he could to change the game in the Vikings' favor and was directly responsible for 14 of the Vikings' 30 points. If he doesn't get Defensive Player of the Week, the voting procedure should be examined.

GAME NIGHT NOTES

  • The game was the first in the long history of the NFL to include a blocked field goal for a touchdown, a touchdown pass from a non-quarterback, two field goals of more than 50 yards and two punt returns for a touchdown.

  • Winfield's blocked field goal return for a touchdown was the first time in the 48-year history of the Vikings that a player has accomplished that in the regular season. However, it isn't the first time it has happened. In the Dec. 26, 1976 NFC Championship Game, Nate Allen blocked a chip shot field goal attempt from Los Angeles Rams kicker Tom Dempsey that was scooped up by Bobby Bryant and returned 90 yards for a touchdown in a 24-13 Minnesota win.

  • Bernard Berrian had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. He became the first Vikings receiver to have a 100-yard receiving game since Troy Williamson caught six passes for 102 yards in Week 2 of the 2006 season – a span of 35 games.

  • In his career, the least rushing yards Adrian Peterson had ever gained with 20 or more carries was 66 yards at Detroit in the second game of his career. In Monday's game, A.D. had just 32 yards on 21 carries with a long run of seven yards.

  • Neither team could effectively run the ball. There wasn't a run of more than 10 yards for either team. The Vikings had just 44 yards on 26 carries and the Saints fared little better with 55 yards on 22 carries.

  • Reggie Bush tied a NFL record with two punt return touchdowns and might have had a third if not for stumbling after finding a seam in the special-teams coverage – which was dismal on both kickoffs and punts Monday night. Bush finished with 268 total yards – 175 on punt returns, 29 yards rushing on 10 carries and 64 yards on seven receptions. Head coach Brad Childress said after the game that Kluwe was supposed to kick both of Bush's returns for touchdowns out of bounds.

  • Devery Henderson had 104 receiving yards – the third different Saints player to top the century mark this year.

  • Drew Brees topped 300 yards passing for the fourth time in five games, completing 26 of 46 passes for 330 yards and one TD, which came just four minutes into the game.

  • Bobby Wade set a personal high with seven receptions last week against the Titans. That record would last just one game, as he caught eight passes for 64 yards Monday.

  • Cedric Griffin was picked on much of the game – leading the Vikings with nine solo tackles.

  • The 30 points scored Monday was by far the most by the Vikings this season. In their first four games, the Vikings scored 19, 15, 20 and 17 points.

  • In the three Saints losses this year, they have allowed 29, 34 and 30 points.

  • The Saints had an edge in first downs at 17 to 16. Of those 33 first downs, 26 of them were gained through the air.

  • The Vikings had as many first downs thanks to penalty (two) as they had rushing. Both of the rushing first downs for the Vikings came on third-and-1 running plays by Peterson.

  • Ryan Longwell made all three of his field goal attempts and has made both of his attempts from 53 yards this season. In his first two seasons, he made just one of six attempts from 50-plus yards.

  • Longwell is now 14 of 17 for his career on field goal attempts that were either game winners or giving his team the lead in the final two minutes of games or in overtime.

  • Neither team was very impressive on third down – the Vikings converted just 5 of 15 third downs and the Saints made good on 7 of 15 chances.

  • The Saints had 105 more total yards than the Vikings – the Saints had 375 yards (320 passing, 55 rushing) and the Vikings had 270 yards (226 passing, 44 rushing).

  • The Vikings had 117 return yards – 117 yards on five kick returns and none on punts because both New Orleans punts had fair catches called. The Saints had 354 yards in returns – 176 yards on five punts and 178 yards on seven kickoffs.

  • Bush has six touchdowns on the season – three on punt returns, two on receptions and one rushing.

  • The Saints came in as one of the top red zone teams in the league but scored on just one of four chances in the red zone. The Vikings, who came into the game as the worst in the league, scored on one of three red zone chances.

  • The Saints held a time of possession edge of 32:09 to 27:51 that should have been more pronounced.

  • Penalties were huge in the game. The Saints had 11 penalties for 102 yards and the Vikings had seven for 60 yards.

  • The Superdome is one of the noisiest stadiums in the league and the 12th man came into play in the second half. At one point, the Vikings committed back-to-back false starts related to the noise and had to burn a timeout after another false start penalty.

  • The Vikings didn't have any turnovers, while the Saints had four – two fumbles and two interceptions. It could have been worse – the Saints fumbled five times, but recovered three of their own fumbles. The Vikings had one fumble when Frerotte got blindsided in the second quarter, but offensive tackle Ryan Cook fell on the loose ball to maintain possession.

  • Through three quarters, Peterson had 13 carries for 21 yards. In the fourth quarter, he rushed eight times for just 11 yards.

  • Ed Hochuli and his crew had a pretty brutal night. Aside from missing an obvious facemask that would have negated a Bush fumble, his crew appeared to blow a fumble call on a carry by Peterson that looked to be coming loose before his knee touched the ground. By our count, there were at least seven instances of Hochuli giving an elaborate explanation of calls made by the officiating crew – many of which weren't really necessary if not for his blunder in the San Diego-Denver game earlier this year.

  • On at least three or four plays in the second half, DE Jared Allen dropped into coverage to take tight ends down the field.

  • Ben Leber had a big night. Aside from making a heads-up interception deep in Vikings territory to kill a Saints drive, he also defensed a couple of passes more than 30 yards downfield.

  • Before the game-tying touchdown pass to Berrian, through 19-plus quarters, the Vikings offense had three TD passes – one by Frerotte, one by Tarvaris Jackson and one by Chester Taylor earlier in the game.

  • The Saints didn't punt until 9:33 remained in the game. New Orleans would only punt twice all night.

  • The Saints dominated the first half, out-gaining the Vikings 251-120 with more passing yards (210-95) and rushing yards (41-25). But penalties were killers, as New Orleans had eight penalties to just two by the Vikings.

  • In the first half, Brees completed 19 of 29 passes for 220 yards with one TD and one interception. Frerotte completed 8 of 18 passes for 91 yards.

  • Bush had five carries for 25 yards in the first half and seven receptions for 64 yards. While he made a huge impact on special teams in the second half, as far as the offense was concerned, he was almost non-existent – rushing seven times for 4 yards and not catching a pass.

  • The Saints trailed 20-10 at halftime thanks to three turnovers and a blocked field goal for a TD.

  • Prior to a field goal drive at the end of the first half, the Saints held a total yardage edge of 251-51 late in the second quarter. At that point, the Vikings had completed just 4 of 11 passes for 44 yards and had 4 yards rushing on seven attempts, yet led 17-10.

  • The Saints were consistently putting eight and nine players in the box to bottle up Peterson, something that other teams are sure to try to copy until the Vikings can prove it won't work.

  • Of their first 21 offensive plays in the game for the Saints, 19 of them happened in Vikings territory.

  • Bush stole the thunder in the return game, but in the first half alone, Pierre Thomas had kick returns of 56, 41 and 32 yards to set up the Saints offense in consistently good field position.

  • In the first quarter, the Saints completely dominated the action, gaining 148 total yards to just 30 by the Vikings. Of Bush's 29 rushing yards, 24 came in the first quarter.

  • Although he didn't catch a pass, TE Garrett Mills deserves a game ball for his heads-up play late in the first quarter. After a Martin Gramatica field goal gave the Saints a 10-7 lead, New Orleans tried a surprise onside kick. Mills was the only Viking surrounded by five Saints players, but made the sure-handed grab on the New Orleans 40-yard line. The Vikings wouldn't move the ball on offense, but got close enough for Longwell to hit a 53-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10 in the final minute of the first quarter.

  • Following the Vikings' blocked field goal for a touchdown, they hurt themselves with an excessive celebration penalty, forcing Longwell to kick off from the 15-yard on the next possession. Thomas would return it to the Saints 49-yard line and New Orleans cashed in with a field goal.

  • Five different Saints players had receptions of 20 yards or more.

  • Monday was Frerotte's first start on Monday Night Football since 1997 as a member of the Washington Redskins. In that game, he and the Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys.

  • Head coaches Brad Childress and Sean Payton both attended small Eastern Illinois University.

  • Hank Williams Jr., the singer who belts out the familiar refrain "Are you ready for some football?" in the MNF opening, was on hand in New Orleans. He was wearing Saints garb during the game.

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