The Minnesota Vikings officially inducted Randy Moss into the Ring of Honor at halftime of Monday night’s season-opening game, but they’d been paying tribute to Moss all night long.
Especially on the field.
Minnesota’s passing attack looked reminiscent of those Moss-led teams almost two decades ago, as wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen combined to catch 16 passes for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Vikings’ 29-19 eye-opening win over the New Orleans Saints.
The sellout crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium was treated to an offensive performance not foreseen by many, especially after a dismal effort by the first stringers during the preseason. On Monday night, though --when it counted -- the offensive line protected Sam Bradford. A unit consisting of two free agents, a rookie and two former centers playing at guard pushed around the Saints’ front seven.
Drew Brees and his Saints offense were held in check for most of the night. The Vikings’ defense was dominant despite tallying just one sack – courtesy of Everson Griffen -- and zero turnovers. Minnesota shined most when the Saints were in the red zone. The Saints were inside the Vikings’ 10-yard line on four different possessions: Three ended in field goals, and the last one finished with a meaningless Brees touchdown pass that made it a two-possession game with under two minutes to play.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sammy Sleeves. Bradford, donning what has become his trademark extra-long jersey sleeves, ripped through the Saints defense with ease. He obtained a career-high passer rating of 143.0, which bests a 134.6 rating with the Rams in 2013 and a 123.1 mark in the Vikings’ 31-13 win over Houston last season.
Bradford’s final stat line reads 27 of 32 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the 10th time in his career that he tallied three touchdowns in a game, and just the sixth time in his career that he’s done so without throwing a pick. Bradford has thrown for more passing yards just five times -- all coming in losses -- which is probably a testament to how bad some of those Rams and Eagles teams that Bradford quarterbacked than anything.
Only Alex Smith, who steered the Chiefs to a surprising defeat of the defending champion Patriots, passed for more yards in Week 1 than Bradford.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
The torch has been passed. Minnesota’s flashy rookie running back Dalvin Cook outdueled former Vikings star Adrian Peterson, rushing 22 times for 127 yards, including a 33-yard scamper on his last attempt of the day that was halted 12 yards shy of Cook’s first NFL touchdown and locked up a Vikings win. “DC,” as Diggs referred to him in a postgame interview, impressed with his vision and execution while pass blocking. He was targeted by Bradford five times and caught three passes for 10 yards. That doesn’t seem significant, but considering that Peterson was targeted five or more times in just 17 of his 123 games while in Minnesota signify offensive coordinator Pat Shumur’s plans for the Florida State product as the season continues.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
The Vikings offense didn’t flash too much in the first quarter. Cook had four carries for no gain, and Bradford hadn’t completed a pass for more than 11 yards. With the score 6-3 and just over five minutes to play in the first half, Bradford connected on a deep pass down the left side with Thielen for 35 yards. He was just getting started. On the next two plays, Bradford threw a 21-yard spiral to Jarius Wright and an 18-yard touchdown to a wide open Stefon Diggs, who celebrated with a Moss-esque dance in the corner of the end zone.
All in all, the suddenly vertical Vikings saw seven passes go for over 20 yards. It’s amazing what a veteran quarterback can do with time in the pocket.
The Vikings held Adrian Peterson to 18 yards on six carries, spoiling the future Hall of Famer’s return to Minneapolis. Peterson, who surprisingly received more boos than cheers from the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium, took the first snap of the game up the middle for nine yards. And that’s about it. His other five carries went for 1, 3, 1, 2 and 2 yards. For those who thought the Saints would sort out the situation at running back, that certainly wasn’t the case. Rookie Alvin Kamara had seven carries for 18 yards, and former Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram was limited to 17 yards on six attempts. Probably not what Peterson envisioned when he signed with New Orleans in late April, made evident by the viral clip of the 32-year-old looking disgruntled with head coach Sean Payton.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
THEY SAID IT
“I thought this was a really good team win. When I say ‘team’, I’m including our fans. I thought our fans did an outstanding job tonight. They helped us defensively quite a bit in the crowd noise.” – Mike Zimmer
“Our guys up front played great tonight. They really kept me clean all night long. They gave me plenty of time to really sit back there, evaluate things and find the open receiver.” – Sam Bradford on the play of his offensive line
“I really appreciate this, y’all. I’m very emotional when it comes to the game … ‘cause I wore the game on my shoulders. I didn’t play the game for any honors, any accolades. … I appreciate all ya’ll tonight. I just love the game of football.” – Randy Moss, amidst tears, reflecting on his induction into the Vikings Ring of Honor
“He looked really good. Great patience, good vision. … Couple of big runs there at the end … I wish him nothing but the best.” – Adrian Peterson on Dalvin Cook
The 1-0 Vikings travel to Heinz Field to face Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are fresh off a 21-18 road win against the pesky Browns.