Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The biggest moment in the Vikings’ 20-9 loss to the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday was a controversial penalty that killed the second half momentum the Vikings built.
Down 13-9 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Robert Blanton sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees on 3rd and 13. Munnerlyn lifted Brees up off the ground and threw him down viciously, prompting Brees to jump up and shove Blanton in frustration.
Munnerlyn was called for unnecessary roughness, extending the drive that ended on an 18-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Marques Colston seven plays later.
“I tried to get an answer from the referees, but they really wouldn’t talk to me,” Munnerlyn said. “I know coach will turn the play in and he’ll let me know what they say. I feel like I let my teammates down because it changed the game. At the end of the day, they called the penalty. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with the penalty, but they called it.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he spoke to referee Walt Anderson after the play, and he felt Munnerlyn threw Brees down with force. Anderson also said he blew the whistle once Munnerlyn and Blanton wrapped up Brees.
They Vikings had held the Saints scoreless since the first quarter and reeled off three field goals to draw within four points before Colston scored.
“I thought we had good momentum going on,” Zimmer said. “We were frustrating them a little bit offensively. I think we would’ve had good field position. Who knows, but they were a lot better than we were today.”
I’ll give you three reasons to be encouraged and three reasons to be discouraged. Take your pick. Here goes:
Three reasons to be encouraged:
1, There couldn’t have been a more difficult situation for Teddy Bridgewater to make his NFL debut. But the kid did some really good things, and that’s saying something when he’s thrown into a game cold when a veteran, Matt Cassel, breaks his foot. The game not only was on the road, but it was in New Orleans against a Rob Ryan defense in the Saints’ home opener. Bridgewater showed some strong awareness in the red zone, pulling the ball down and taking a loss to avoid the turnover and then running for a first down on a delayed draw to set up a field goal and make the game a one-possession contest. Bridgewater posted an 83.3 passer rating, didn’t turn the ball over and ran six times for a 4.5-yard average. Overall, he looked pretty good for his NFL debut.
2, The Vikings’ defense finally showed it can stop the run again. After five quarters of being pushed around by the Patriots last week and the Saints in the first quarter today, the run defense stiffened and the Vikings were able to put Drew Brees in some long third-down situations, which made the pass rush effective again. The reason the Vikings stayed in this game after being down 13-0 in the first quarter is because the run defense got its act together.
3, The special teams were a strength again with coordinator Mike Priefer back from his suspension. Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 30 yards on four kickoff returns, punter Jeff Locke averaged 45.3 yards with an even greater net average of 46.0. He had a long of 57 and three punts downed inside the 20. The Saints didn’t have kickoff return and they had minus-3 yards on punt returns.
Three reasons to be discouraged:
1, Injuries this severe in Week 3 tear down seasons. Cassel’s broken foot, coupled with Adrian Peterson’s indefinite leave, means it’s officially a rebuilding year. And rebuilding years have a lot of growing pains, particularly when there’s a rookie QB involved. And the likelihood that Bridgewater stays healthy behind this offensive line at its current level of play is slim. Christian Ponder will play a game before the season is over. Throw in a possible serious groin injury to tight end Kyle Rudolph and a shoulder injury to right guard Brandon Fusco and, well, this season appears to be collapsing quickly.
2, The offensive line was a disappointment for the second straight week. The rushing average last week was 2.8. This week, it was 2.7. There just aren’t enough quality holes being made. And there are too many defenders coming free on pass rushes.
3, The way the defense started was a major concern. Brees completed his first nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was pressured only one time, and on that play, all he had to do was take a slide step to his left. The Saints had 54 yards on just nine rushes in the first quarter. That enabled Brees to feel comfortable. By the time the Vikings corrected that situation, the Saints had the points they would need.
Coming home will help this team. But it better hope Josh Robinson’s hamstring injury isn’t serious because the opponent is a Falcons team that can stretch the field with multiple elite receivers.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel has been ruled out with a toe injury he suffered in the second quarter. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater replaced Cassel with 12:15 left in the first half.
The injury occurred on a five-yard scramble with 14:47 left in the first half where Cassel was slow to get up. He was later carted into the locker room. Cassel finished the game 5 of 10 for 53 yards.
Bridgewater went 3 of 5 for 46 yards in the first half, leading the Vikings to a field goal on his first drive. Most of his yards in the first half came on a 41-yard dump off to running back Matt Asiata to put the Vikings in field goal range. Bridgewater also had five rushes for 23 yards.
The Saints lead the Vikings 13-6 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at halftime. Quarterback Matt Cassel has been ruled out with a toe injury he suffered in the second quarter.
The Good: Somehow it’s a close game. After the Saints jumped out to a 13-0 start, it appeared the game would get ugly in a hurry. But the Vikings held the Saints offense scoreless in the second quarter and hit two field goals to draw within a possession.
It was also the NFL debut of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who replaced Cassel in the second quarter. The toe injury occurred on a five yard scramble with 14:47 left in the first half. Bridgewater led the Vikings to a field goal on his opening drive due to a 41-yard dump off to running back Matt Asiata.
Cassel finished 5 of 10 for 53 yards. Bridgewater is 3 of 5 for 46 yards.
The Bad: Saints quarterback Drew Brees had about as perfect of a first half as you’ll see from a quarterback. He’s picked apart the Vikings secondary, going 12 of 14 for 123 yards and a touchdown. He executed an 11-play, 80-yard drive to start the game that lasted 5:24. The Vikings allowed seven first downs on the drive as the Saints gained positive yardage on every play. The Vikings contained the offense in the second quarter, but they started in a huge deficit because of Brees.
The Ugly: The Vikings defensive line has improved as the game progressed, but the offensive line has been terrible in pass protection. Regardless of who has been at quarterback, Bridgewater and Cassel haven’t benefited from a clean pocket with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan dialing up different blitzes. On Bridgewater’s first drive, the Vikings settled for a field goal mainly due to Bridgewater tripping over left tackle Matt Kalil on 1st and goal. While it might be the only sack the Vikings have allowed so far, the Saints have been getting a lot of hurries and hits on the Vikings quarterbacks.
Vikings outside linebacker Chad Greenway is active for today’s game against the New Orleans Saints despite a broken left hand and a rib injury that prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday. That means Greenway will keep his consecutive games played streak alive.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed to the 53-man roster yesterday, will not suit up.
Also inactive are quarterback Christian Ponder, cornerback Shaun Prater, outside linebacker Brandon Watts, guard David Yankey, wide receiver Rodney Smith and defensive end Scott Crichton.
Running back Mark Ingram and linebacker David Hawthorne are among the notable inactives for the Saints. Also inactive are safety Marcus Ball, fullback Erik Lorig, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, wide receiver Nick Toon and defensive tackle John Jenkins.
|Minnesota||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Detroit||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Kansas City||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|New England||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Giants||12/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Buffalo||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Seattle||12/21/14 7:30 PM|
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|Mount St Marys||45||FINAL|
|Stephen F Austin||94|
|St Josephs (IN)||54||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||68|
|Miss Valley St||60|
|Sam Houston St||61|
|Central Conn St||76|
|Long Beach State||68||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||67||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||67|
|Utah Valley U||61||FINAL|
|San Diego St||70|
|South Dakota St||68||FINAL|
|BYU||12/22/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Illinois||12/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Rutgers||12/26/14 3:30 PM|
|NC State||12/26/14 7:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||12/27/14 12:00 PM|
|Duke||12/27/14 1:10 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Miami-Florida||12/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Boston College||12/27/14 3:30 PM|
|(25) Nebraska||12/27/14 7:00 PM|
|East Tenn St||56||FINAL|
|(1) South Carolina||80|
|St Thomas Aquinas||45||FINAL|
|(22) West Virginia||69|
|(18) Michigan State||65||FINAL|
|San Jose St||62||FINAL|
|San Diego State||54|
|Stephen F Austin||72|
|New Mexico St||57|
|(16) Oregon State||73||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||66|
|Long Beach St||53|
|(21) Miss State||73||FINAL|