MINNEAPOLIS ― The Saints promised all week Sunday’s game against Minnesota wouldn’t be like the St. Louis debacle.
It might have taken a little more than a quarter, but by the end, New Orleans’ players kept their promise.
The Saints pounded the Vikings in the final three quarters, overwhelming Minnesota in a 42-20 win.
Now the Saints (11-3) head into Monday’s post-Christmas gathering in the Superdome against Atlanta needing only to win to clinch the NFC South.
Quarterback Drew Brees continued his torrid pace this season. He entered the game needing 716 yards to break Dan Marino’s NFL record. On Sunday alone he had 412 yards, completing 32 of 40 passes with five touchdowns.
Brees also broke the NFL record for most games in a season with 300-or-more passing yards, recording his 11th such game in 14 contests.
But the Saints defense nearly matched Brees’ effort, holding Minnesota (2-12) to 207 total yards in the game, a season-low for New Orleans.
The game couldn’t have started much worse for the Saints. On third-and-nine on the opening possession of the game, Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for an 18-yard gain.
But Graham fumbled and Minnesota’s Mistral Raymond recovered, returning it to the Saints’ 26. Four plays later, the Vikings’ Ryan Longwell hit a 44-yard field goal, putting the Saints behind 3-0 early.
The Saints took the lead more than 10 minutes later when Brees hit receiver Lance Moore for a 5-yard score. It marked the 41st consecutive game with a Brees touchdown pass, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
The 5 minute, 36 second drive nearly wasn’t, though, as a penalty wiped off the first touchdown, a 40-yard pass to Robert Meachem, when fullback Jed Collins was called for holding.
After the defense stopped Minnesota on the ensuing series, the Saints offense turned the ball over once again. Center Brian de la Puente snapped the ball past Brees and Minnesota’s Everson Griffen recovered, returning it to New Orleans’ 21. But the defense held strong, pushing the Vikings back 10 yards and forcing a Longwell 49-yard field goal.
Again the Saints answered, driving 80 yards in five plays, helped by two big Minnesota penalties, to take a 14-6 lead with 10:04 to go in the opening half. First, Jamarca Sanford was called for hitting Saints running back Darren Sproles out of bounds. Then, on first-and-25, Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson was called for pass interference in the end zone while covering Saints receiver Marques Colston.
For the first time since the Super Bowl, the Saints tried Ambush. But this time, the ball went through the hands of Courtney Roby and Will Herring and Minnesota recovered. Six plays later, Minnesota made the Saints pay, scoring on a 10-yard shovel pass from quarterback Christian Ponder to fullback Toby Gerhart.
The Saints lead was back to one point at 14-13.
They’d lengthen it before halftime. Brees led New Orleans on a 76-yard scoring drive, going 4-for-4 on third downs to go up 21-13 on a Sproles 13-yard TD pass.
The Saints forced a punt to open the second half and then took only four plays to make it 28-13 when Brees hit tight end John Gilmore for his first touchdown as a member of the team.
The lead spread to 35-13 a series later when Brees hit Moore for a 47-yard touchdown pass.