Saints-Vikings Preview

Given their lackluster road record, it’s no surprise the New

Orleans Saints are extra focused on securing at least one home game

in the playoffs.

Trying to move a step closer to that goal, the Saints take on a

Minnesota Vikings team that is likely to have Adrian Peterson back

from a high ankle sprain.

New Orleans (10-3) is tied with San Francisco in the race for

the NFC’s No. 2 seed, but the 49ers have the inside track because

of an 8-2 conference record. The Saints are 6-3 in NFC games.

“There’s some (scoreboard watching) because that two-seed would

be important. Having been in that position before we know how

valuable it is,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said.

New Orleans would have been in position to clinch its third

division title in six seasons with a victory Sunday if Atlanta had

lost to Jacksonville on Thursday, but the Falcons won 41-14.

The Saints, riding a five-game winning streak, appear to have a

good shot to pull closer to the division crown with the Vikings

(2-11), losers of five straight, up next. New Orleans, though, is

4-3 away from home and needed a late comeback to beat Tennessee

22-17 last week.

Drew Brees rallied his team with a pair of fourth-quarter

touchdown passes to Marques Colston, and the Saints held the Titans

at the 5-yard line over the game’s final two plays. New Orleans

clinched a team record-tying third straight playoff berth with the

win and Chicago’s overtime loss in Denver later that day.

“It was a gut-check win for us,” coach Sean Payton said. “A lot

of things early on didn’t go our way. We had some calls that could

have went either way. We just kept fighting and won a good game on

the road against a good team.”

Brees, the NFL leader with 4,368 passing yards and director of

the league’s top offense (447.8 yards per game), has thrown for a

touchdown in 40 consecutive contests, seven shy of tying Johnny

Unitas’ league mark. He is also riding an NFL-record streak of 33

games with 20 or more completions.

He’ll get the chance to extend those runs when he makes his NFL

Metrodome debut against the league’s 26th-ranked pass defense,

which is allowing 248.8 yards per game.

The Vikings gave up a pair of touchdowns through the air and

Christian Ponder committed two costly turnovers in the first 18

minutes of a 34-28 loss in Detroit last week.

Minnesota nearly completed a spectacular comeback from a

21-point deficit behind Joe Webb, who replaced Ponder in the third

quarter following three interceptions and a fumble that was

recovered in the end zone.

Webb guided the Vikings to the 1-yard line in the final seconds

but fumbled on the final play as referees failed to catch Lions

linebacker DeAndre Levy’s facemask penalty.

With Peterson out for a third straight game, Webb provided a

lift to the ground attack with 109 yards on seven carries – most of

that coming on a 65-yard scoring sprint in the third quarter. He

also threw a short TD pass to running back Toby Gerhart in the

final period.

Despite that performance, coach Leslie Frazier indicated Ponder

will start Sunday if healthy. The rookie has been dealing with a

hip pointer and was questionable for last week’s game.

”I need to show improvement, not only for myself, but for my

team,” Ponder said. ”I’ve got to do a better job of holding onto

the ball. It’s hard to win ballgames when you give the other team

points, so I’ve got to do a better job these next three weeks and

hopefully get three wins.”

Ponder should get some help from Peterson, who is listed as

probable despite his estimation that he’s only 85 percent

healthy.

”I love this game, so no matter if we were 2-11 or whatever, if

I’m healthy I’m going to go out and play,” Peterson said. ”That’s

been my mindset from the beginning. Three weeks off, I’m going to

be a part of it.”

Even with Peterson on the field, Minnesota couldn’t beat the

Saints in the last two meetings. He had 87 yards on 19 carries

during a 14-9 loss in last season’s opener at the Superdome on

Sept. 9.

That was a rematch of the 2009 NFC championship, won 31-28 in

overtime by New Orleans as the Saints went on to their first Super

Bowl title. Peterson had 122 yards and three TDs in that game, but

Brees threw for three scores.

Before that, though, Minnesota had won four straight in the

series and eight of nine, including playoffs. The Saints are 2-12

all-time in Minnesota and have lost five in a row there, including

postseason.

Brees’ only game at the Metrodome came in 1999, when he led

Purdue to a 33-28 win over the University of Minnesota.