Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
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MINNEAPOLIS ― Jimmy Graham caught a pass on the third play of Sunday’s 42-20 win over Minnesota, turned and, as he made his way up the field, had the ball punched out of his grasp.
Brian de la Puente, hearing very little from quarterback Drew Brees over the noise in the Metrodome, snapped the ball before the signal-caller was ready.
Both turned into Vikings first down.
Both also turned into only field goals, a win for the Saints despite the turnovers.
“It was huge,” Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. “Anytime you can force them to field goals after they have that momentum, it does so much for your team. Being able to have that strength to go out there together and band together and say they’re not getting in, it does so much for the mentality of the team.”
The Saints also committed six penalties for 65 yards, giving them 17 in the past two weeks.
Graham’s fumble came early in the third quarter. He caught the pass from Brees and turned up the field. But Minnesota’s Jamarca Sanford knocked the ball loose and Vikings safety Mistral Raymond recovered it, returning it to New Orleans’ 26.
“I’ll probably have nightmares about that stupid fumble all week,” Graham said.
But three plays netted only a yard as the Saints’ defense stiffened.
The Saints were down only 3-0 instead of 7-0.
On the second play of the second quarter, bugaboos continued for the Saints.
De la Puente heard Brees begin to make his call.
But Brees was changing where his receivers were lined up, not calling the snap count.
The center snapped the ball past an unsuspecting Brees and Minnesota’s Everson Griffen recovered.
Again the defense stood tall, this time backed up against their own 21.
Three straight plays, including two for tackles behind the line of scrimmage, turned only into a field goal instead of a touchdown.
And instead of being down 10-7, the Saints still led 7-6.
“That’s something we work on every day in practice, adverse situations,” defensive end Will Smith said. “Those two early turnovers were adverse situations and they had the ball in good field position. Worse case, we wanted to give up a field goal.”
It’s what the team now expects no matter the circumstances.
“I think that experienced team, veteran team, winning teams find a way to push through challenges and adversity that every game will bring upon you,” Brees said. “You’ve just got to realize it’s not always going to be perfect. You want to avoid those turnovers and those penalties, but if they do come, you have to find a way to overcome it and I feel like we did a good job of that today.”