MINNEAPOLIS – It wasn’t so much avenging the “Minneapolis Miracle” as it was a measuring stick for the New Orleans Saints.
So, call it the “Minneapolis Measuring Stick.”
The Saints used some serious grit to win a rematch against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, 30-20, riding with two huge turnovers from the defense that was so embarrassed during their last visit to U.S. Bank Stadium in January for an NFC divisional playoff game.
There was no need for a miracle finish this time, but the Saints (6-1) at least proved that they can indeed win on the Vikings’ turf after dropping two games here in the past 13 months.
Usually, the highlights for a Saints win are provided by Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara or Michael Thomas.
But on Sunday night, the signature plays came from the Saints defense. Marshon Lattimore set up a touchdown just before halftime with a 54-yard fumble return, then P.J. Williams picked off Kirk Cousins and raced 45 yards for a touchdown.
Brees, Kamara and Thomas were efficient enough. Yet in the bigger picture, the Saints can draw some encouragement that their much-maligned secondary – stung repeatedly by record-breaker Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs – had a few counter-punches in its tank to help sink Minnesota (4-3-1).
If New Orleans is going to mount a serious bid to advance to the Super Bowl, it will need more of that big-play defense.
And another measuring stick looms in a matter of days, when the NFL’s only undefeated team, the Los Angeles Rams (8-0) brings its prolific offense to the Superdome on Sunday.
Three other things we learned:
1. The Saints' secondary is still an adventure. What a way to bounce back from last posteason's heartbreak. Sure, that was last year. But the New Orleans secondary remains the team’s Achilles’ heel, and for a while on Sunday night it appeared it would be exposed as something much less than championship-caliber. And no one, it seemed, was having quite the nightmare like Williams, who was beaten for Minnesota’s first TD and flagged for DPI in the end zone to second up the second TD. But before it was over, the Saints' secondary was posing for pictures in the end zone and celebrating big plays.
2. Thielen can change a game in more ways than one. The Vikings’ rags-to-riches receiver tacked on some more records (breaking new ground with his eighth consecutive 100-yard game, topping marks set by Charley Hennigan, Julio Jones and Randy Moss, and tying a mark set by Calvin Johnson). But he also coughed up the fumble just before halftime that changed the game’s momentum. Minnesota was poised to extend its lead to 10 points before Alex Anzalone forced the fumble that Lattimore returned 54 yards to set up the Alvin Kamara TD plunge that gave New Orleans a lead (17-13) that it never relinquished.
3. Drew Brees isn’t perfect. The 39-year-old Saints quarterback might be in the conversation for the first NFL MVP of his 18-year career (in the running with Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes, among others), given his remarkable consistency. It’s taken him nearly half the season to throw his first interception, which came late in the second quarter at the hands of Harrison Smith. The pass over the middle sailed above intended receiver Michael Thomas.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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