The Minnesota Vikings may yet win their second straight division title this season, but they got off on the wrong foot.
The New Orleans Saints squeaked out a win over Minnesota in a predictably low-scoring, borderline sloppy season-opening game Thursday night.
Neither team fired on all cylinders, although Drew Brees and Devery Henderson did connect for the season's first touchdown less than three minutes into the first quarter.
That set the tone for the evening in one respect: Henderson beat Vikings defenders badly, getting behind two defenders for an easy catch. That happened a dozen times during the evening, victimizing each secondary six times.
On only one of the other occasions, though, did the blown coverage lead to points. Vikings quarterback Brett Favre connected with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for a 20-yard touchdown during the first half's final minute on a play on which Shiancoe got behind a Saints linebacker and safety.
The game became more defensive in the second half, with both teams' passing games stalling somewhat. At that stage, the Saints' running game stepped up and made more plays. Running back Pierre Thomas scored a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and Minnesota never answered.
Although neither high-powered offense looked especially high-powered, the game was relatively well played. Still, it was a loss for Minnesota, and with the hype surrounding division rival Green Bay this season, there will be some measure of nervousness in the land of 10,000 lakes this week.
There are good reasons, though, for Minnesotans not to fret.
Favre looked relatively good, given his reputation as a rhythm quarterback. He made strong throws over New Orleans defenders, fitting balls into tight coverage and getting improbably completions. He also missed a pair of good opportunities, but given his unfamiliarity with the receiving corps—Greg Camarillo made the second-longest catch of the night for the Vikings, after being acquired on Aug. 25—it could have been much worse.
Adrian Peterson ran for 4.6 yards per carry. He had only one run for negative yardage and lost a 17-yard gain on an essentially insignificant holding penalty against Shiancoe. The Vikings will need Peterson to return to his 2007-08 form if they hope to hang on to their division crown, and Peterson showed he still has that explosiveness Thursday.
If the offense failed to capitalize on ample opportunities, the defense seemed to be dodging bullets all night. Brees and company seemed to be on the move each time they got the ball and likely will come away disappointed they could not put more than 14 points on the board.
In particular, the Vikings' pass rush seemed slow all night. They sacked Brees just once and hit him just twice more. They did combine for five tackles for loss in the ground game but will need to show better balance through the front seven, beginning next week against Miami.