October 7, 2008

Vikings Top Saints In Thrilling Monday Night Game

Frerotte outplays Brees in final minutes; Bush's two punt return touchdowns not enough

courtesy neworleanssaints.com

In a topsy-turvy game that seemingly witnessed just about everything, it was an ordinary 30-yard field goal by Minnesota’s Ryan Longwell that proved to be the difference in the Vikings’ 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Trailing 20-10 at halftime, the Saints scorched back to score 17 unanswered points in the second half to take a 27-20 lead and by all accounts, had all the momentum on their side and a raucous crowd on their feet, particularly after Reggie Bush tied an NFL record with his second punt return of the night for a touchdown. Despite the heroic effort by Bush, with 269 yards of total yards and two scores, the Saints could not convert a late field 46-yard field goal and watched as the Vikings did convert their field goal opportunity en route to the heartbreaking loss, the Saints’ third loss of the season by a combined 10 points.

With the Saints leading 27-20, Minnesota converted a third-and-16 late in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard completion for a score on a pass from Gus Frerotte to a diving Bernard Berrian in the end zone. “We brought an all-out blitz there and the receiver (Berrian) made a play.”

“There were some positives tonight,” said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton to begin his press conference, but quickly added. “Simply put, there were too many penalties (11-102) and too many turnovers (four) and they came back to get haunt in the end. You can’t win football games by shooting yourself in the foot like we did.”

Payton also said the team’s inconsistencies in all three phases of the game were also to blame for the Saints falling to 2-3. “Two missed field goals, one which was returned for a score and the penalties, two fumbles, dropped passes. That things, it is very well documented, will cause you to lose just about every time.”

“The bottom line is that I am sick of the penalties and some of these guys that are repeat offenders (in the penalty department), won’t be repeat offenders much longer,” the head coach said, an obvious reference to potential lineup changes he may be contemplating.

“This is the weirdest game I think I have ever played in,” said QB Drew Brees. “The turnovers and the penalties. They rip your heart out.”

“We, collectively as a team, lost this game tonight,” said Bush. “If we think we are an elite team, we need to way to find a way out to win this close games.”

The Saints held one of the NFL’s elite running backs (Adrian Peterson) to a meager 32 yards on 21 carries for a 1.5 average, but Frerotte was efficient through the air (222 yards on 19 completions to 36 attempts) and the Vikings lack of turnovers proved to the difference in the highly entertaining affair.

New Orleans Saints had scored 17 unanswered points in the second half courtesy of a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Reggie Bush, 64-yard punt return for a score and a 53-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica and led the Vikings 27-20.

The Vikings had earlier taken advantage of two Saints fumbles, an interception and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown to lead the Saints 20-10 at the Superdome at halftime.

The Vikings took their first lead of the night on a four-yard pass from RB Chester Taylor to TE Visanthe Shiancoe that gave them a 17-10 lead early in the second quarter.

The Saints opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game, courtesy of a perfectly thrown 17-yard pass from QB Drew Brees to WR Devery Henderson. Minnesota, though, turned in a big play of their own on a 59-yard blocked field goal that was returned for a TD by CB Antoine Winfield midway through the first quarter.

The Saints, who won the opening kickoff and elected to receive, were buoyed immediately on a 56-yard kickoff return by second year RB Pierre Thomas. The 56-yard return was the career long for the Illinois product and the Saints responded in kind offensively, marching 47 yards in eight plays in 3:51. On the drive the Saints converted two third downs, one coming on a six-yard Brees scramble and the second coming on a third-and-ten from the 17, which was the scoring pass to Henderson, who got between a safety and a cornerback on the goal-line and hauled in Brees’ perfectly thrown pass, which following Martin Gramatica’s extra point gave the Saints a 7-0 lead.

Minnesota began their opening drive at their own 33 yard-line and immediately tried to work on the middle of the Saints’ defensive line with a run up the middle by RB Adrian Peterson, which netted two yards before Charles Grant hammered him down to the ground. Minnesota picked up two consecutive first downs on 12 and 13 yard passes from Frerotte, but the Vikings bogged down at the Saints’ 36 yard-line after the Saints defense stopped the visitors, compliments of a critical third down pass rush unleashed by DE Will Smith. Minnesota punted from the Saints’ 36, but the ball bounded into the end zone for a touchback and a 16-yard net punt as the Saints took over at their own 20.

Brees and Henderson connected right out of the box with a 52-yard completion after Henderson bolted through the secondary and hauled in the pass to the Vikings’ 28. Two plays later Reggie Bush took a toss and picked up nine yards. On third-and-one, Bush took a pitch to the other side and appeared to pick up 15 yards but a holding call on FB Mike Karney negated the first down. Brees and Robert Meachem couldn’t hook up on third down along the sideline. Gramatica trotted onto the field to attempt a 46-yard field goal, but his kick was blocked by DT Kevin Williams and returned 59 yards for a touchdown by Winfield and the game suddenly was tied at 7 apiece.

Winfield was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Vikings were forced to kick off from their own 15. Thomas returned the ball to the Saints’ 49 and Brees completed three straight passes to Saints tight ends (the first two to Mark Campbell (9 and 8 yards)) and the third on a 7-yard completion to Billy Miller. Bush then picked up 10 yards on a toss to the Minnesota 17. But three consecutive pass attempts failed to connect for the Saints and Gramatica was called upon to try a 35-yard field goal, which he converted and the Saints retook the lead, 10-7.

K Steve Weatherford then attempted an on-side kick but an alert play by TE Garrett Mills, who recovered the ball, gave the Vikings the ball and good field possession at the Saints’ 40. A defensive holding call on Roman Harper gave the Vikings five more yards and a first down, but the Saints then stuffed Peterson twice, bringing up a third-and-11 from the Saints’ 36 with just over a minutes to play in the first quarter. Frerotte hung in the pocket but couldn’t find a receiver as the pocket collapsed around him and threw the pass away. K Ryan Longwell hammered a 53-yard field goal that knotted the game at 10-10 with :53 seconds left in the first stanza.

The Saints out-gained Vikings 148 yards to 30 in the first quarter of play and out-gained the Vikings 375 yards to 270 yards on the night.

The Saints’ next possession ended on a third-and-five from their own 24 when Brees was hit on a blitz and stripped of the football by Winfield and returned to the Saints’ 5. The Saints stopped two consecutive rushing plays for minus two yards each. On a third-and-goal from the 9, the Saints’ Will Smith was flagged for a neutral zone infraction, which gave Minnesota new life at the four. On third-and-four, RB Chester Taylor took a pitch and swept to his right and lofted a pass into the back of the end zone for TE Visanthe Shiancoe for a TD and their Vikings’ first lead of the night, 17-10.

The Saints then drove into Minnesota territory and advanced as far as the Minnesota 34 when Bush was hauled down by his facemask by LB Chad Greenway and in the process of going down lost the football. No penalty was called on the facemask, which brought a chorus of prolonged boos from the partisan crowd. “I don’t think there was any doubt that it was a face mask, but I shouldn’t have fumbled the ball,” Bush said. “It hurts, it stings. The only way to get this pain and string out is to figure a way out to win this week against Oakland.” Minnesota recovered and took possession of the ball at the 35 in front of a bewildered Superdome crowd.

Minnesota completed a third-and-five with a 15-yard completion to the Saints’ 46 on a pass to Berrian. The Saints’ defense stopped and the Vikings and forced another punt and the Saints took began their next drive at their own 13. Brees completed his first three passes of the drive, including a 22-yarder to Mark Campbell. The Saints received one of their first breaks of the night when a third down completion from Brees to Bush that went for 15 yards and a first down ended with a Bush fumble that was recovered by Billy Miller at the Minnesota 41. The Saints through ended up losing yards on the next two plays on a 10-yard holding and a pass play that lost four yards. On a third-and-22 Brees hit Meachem for a gain of 21 yards to the 32. The Saints went for it on a fourth-and-one and Brees rolled out and hit Bush for a gain of 21 yards to the Vikings’ 11. New Orleans took their second timeout of the first half with 4:11 left in the second quarter.

A first down run by Deuce McAllister lost a yard and on second down misfortune struck again when a Brees pass intended for Lance Moore bounced off of Moore’s hands and into the arms of a diving Ben Leber at the Minnesota 13.

The Vikings picked up gains of 9 yards and 17 yards on completions and on a third-and-one from the NO 49, Peterson picked up five yards but appeared to fumble when he was hit by MLB Jonathan Vilma at the 44. The officials reviewed the ball and conceded the ball was coming loose but that Peterson still had possession in his hand and that it wasn’t a fumble.

Taylor then picked up five yards on a carry and Frerotte picked up five yards on a completion over the middle for the first down. WR Aundrae Allison hauled in a 13-yard completion and a four-yard run by Taylor picked up four yards to the New Orleans 15 with :18 left. A pass intended for Berrian in the corner of the end zone was defended neatly by CB Tracy Porter and ruled out of bounds on second down and Porter broke up a pass on third down and forced the Vikings to kick a 33-yard field goal that increased their lead to 20-10 with only :04 left.

Starting the second half at their own 20 Minnesota with a five-yard carry by Peterson followed by a 12-yard completion to Berrian. Frerotte then scrambled for a six-yard gain and Roman Harper drilled Berrian after a completion for one yard. On third down LB Scott Shanle picked up a crossing pattern by Bobby Wade and forced the pass to fall incomplete with tight coverage.

P Chris Kluwe and the Vikings pinned the Saints deep in their own territory on a 49 yard punt and a minus two yard return by Bush, which gave the Saints the ball at their own 6. The Saints picked up a first down on a third-and-seven via an 11-yard completion from Brees to Moore, but the Saints’ drive stalled and the Saints were forced to punt. Minnesota was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul call on WR Robert Ferguson, which pushed the visitor’s starting field position to own 22. Peterson caught a nine-yard pass to start the drive and then Wade answered with a nine-yard completion to the 40. The Saints’ defense though once again stiffened and forced Minnesota to punt. Reggie Bush fielded the punt at the New Orleans five and returned it 14 yards to Saints’ 19.

After an incompletion began the Saints’ drive Brees hooked up with Miller for an eight-yard completion and then Moore for a four-yard gain and a first down. After a false start penalty pushed the Saints back five-yards, Bush was swarmed under for a one-yard loss. On second down Brees hit Henderson for a 20-yard completion to the Saints’ 46. But the Saints went backwards from their and suffered a negative play when a shotgun snap missed its mark and rolled 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage before Brees could fall on it. P Steve Weatherford uncorked a 45-yard punt that was fair caught at the Vikings’ 22 with 3:25 left in the third quarter.

The Saints halted the Vikings on three plays and again forced the Vikings to punt and Bush fielded the 48 yard punt and made two players miss before heading to the sideline, where he picked up two devastating blocks from LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar and RB Aaron Stecker and returned the punt 71 yards for a touchdown, his second punt return this season. After the extra point the Saints trailed 20-17.

The Saints’ defense again turned up the pressure, with the aide of thunderous noise created by the Saints’ home crowd. On first down Frerotte misfired for Wade and on second down DT Brian Young swatted the ball out of Frerotte’s hand that was recovered by Vikings offensive tackle Ryan Cook. The Vikings then committed a false start penalty that pushed them back five yards. A third down pass interference on Minnesota was declined the Minnesota again punted, with Bush fielding the 49 yard punt that Bush returned 29 yards, and nearly broke it for another score on the final play of the third quarter.

Starting at their own 49 a first down pass to Stecker was incomplete but Brees hit Henderson for 15 yards and a first down, sending Henderson over the 100-yard mark on only his fourth reception of the night. A short run by Bush and a pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage by Jared Allen on second down and a third down incompletion halted the Saints at the Minnesota 35. Gramatica came on and drilled a 53-yard field goal that tied the game at 20-20 with 13:20 left in the game.

New Orleans’ defense once again stopped Minnesota on a three-and-out and Bush retreated deep and field Kluwe’s 39-yard punt. Bush ripped through a hole for 64 yards and raced untouched for his second punt return for a touchdown of the night and third of the season. In doing so he became just the 12th player in NFL history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game, and the Saints had re-gained the lead, 27-20, with 11:36 left in the game.

Minnesota, trailing 27-20, picked up a first down on three consecutive runs by Peterson. Frerotte then dropped back and hit Berrian for a 36-yard completion, but took a big hit from DE Will Smith that left the signal-caller prone on the field and in need of medical attention. Tarvaris Jackson entered the game with the Vikings at the Saints’ 27 yard-line and handed off to Peterson, who was thrown for a three-yard loss by Scott Shanle and a gaggle of Saints defenders. Frerotte came back into the game after one play on the sideline and threw a pass to Bobby Wade who absorbed a big hit from Harper after a short completion. Minnesota then was flagged for their second offensive pass interference of the night and faced a third-and-16 from the Saints’ 33.

Frerotte then lofted a pass deep down the middle of the field an instant before being hit by a blitzing Josh Bullocks. The pass was hauled in by a diving Berrian in the end zone that tied the game at 27-27 with 7:10 left in the game. On the play another Vikings receiver appeared to be going for the ball and wiped out Berrian as he fell to the ground in the end zone.

Pierre Thomas, despite taking a vicious hit on the ensuing kickoff, set the Saints up at their own 17 after a short kickoff return. The Saints lost two yards on a carry by Bush and the home team was then set back by a five yards penalty on rookie Carl Nicks for an illegal procedure call, gained 10 yards on a reception by Robert Meachem. On a third-and-seven Brees hit Miller, who had slipped behind Minnesota’s linebacking crew and hauled in a pass from Brees that he turned into a 41-yard reception despite taking a big hit from CB Cedric Griffin that leveled Miller at the Minnesota 39. The Saints drove to the Minnesota 28 just before the two-minute warning. Gramatica’s 46-yard field goal missed to the left of the uprights and Minnesota took over at their own 35 with 1:59 left in the game.

“I pulled it,” said Gramatica of the missed field goal. “I hit it solid, but it went left. The worst thing about it is that I let the team down. Those are the toughest ones. You hurt the team when you miss those. These guys killed each other for 60 minutes. They played awesome defense. It hurts to let them down like that. It is frustrating when you have a group of guys who are tight like this. It kills me to let them down.”

The Vikings had both of their timeouts and picked up two yards on a run by Peterson and a five-yard completion to Wade. On a third-and-three at the 44 Frerotte dialed up a deep pass down the middle of the field that drew a pass interference call good for 42 yards and gave the Vikings the ball at the Saints’ 14. Peterson carried for one yard and the Saints called a timeout to stop the clock and then the Saints’ defense called their last timeout with 1:00 after another short Peterson carry. The second year running back then carried the ball again and the Vikings milked the clock down so that only :16 remained in the game and kicker Ryan Longwell drilled a 30-yard field goal on fourth down to give the Vikings a 30-27 lead with :13 left in the game.

Aaron Stecker fell on Minnesota’s squib kick at the New Orleans 25. Brees then tried a Hail Mary at the end of the game but rookie Tyrell Johnson intercepted the ball at the Minnesota 19.

Brees finished the night with 330 yards on 26 completions and 46 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 68.2. Lance Moore led all Saints’ receivers with five receptions for 31 yards, while Devery Henderson’s 104 yards on four receptions were the most on the team. Reggie Bush had five punt returns for a club-record 176 yards and two scores and added 12 carries for 29 yards and seven receptions for 64 yards for 269 yards of total offense.

Defensively the Saints were led by MLB Jonathan Vilma (10 tackles), one tackle for a loss, and a pressure. S Kevin Kaesviharn, CB Mike McKenzie, DT Brian Young and DE Charles Grant each had six stops. The New Orleans defense had a total of six tackles for losses on the night. On special teams rookie LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar had a team-high three tackles.

Notes: The Saints signed DT Remi Ayodele from the practice squad and released reserve DE Josh Savage. In another move the Saints activated TE Buck Ortega from the practice squad and waived QB Joey Harrington…Inactive players for the Saints for this evening’s game were: WR Marques Colston, CB Aaron Glenn, FB Olaniyi Sobomehin, S Chris Reis, T Jermon Bushrod, WR David Patten, TE Jeremy Shockey and DT Sedrick Ellis.

Vikings inactives included: QB John David Booty (3rd QB), WR Sidney Rice, S Madieu Williams, CB Benny Sapp, FB Thomas Tapeh, T Drew Radovich, T Marcus Johnson, DT Letroy Guion. Minnesota also announced they placed starting MLB E.J. Henderson on injured reserve with a foot injury and activated T Bryant McKinnie from the reserve/suspended list.

Starting Lineup Changes: Veteran Brian Young started in place of rookie DT Sedrick Ellis at NT. WR Lance Moore started in place of WR David Patten at wide receiver. TE Mark Campbell started in place of TE Jeremy Shockey for the second straight game.

Aaron Back in Action: Veteran RB Aaron Stecker made his regular season debut this evening after missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury.

Are You Ready? Country music legend Hank Williams Jr. was on the Saints’ sidelines in a Saints jersey before the opening kickoff. Williams Jr. was handed the on-the-field microphone and enthusiastically announced the crowd, “Hey Saints Fans! Are You Ready for Some Football???!!!”

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