December 18, 2011

Saints Demolish Vikings, 42-20

The Vikings franchise has now lost three straight to the Saints, but the first two games were competitive, physical grudgematches including the 2009 NFC Championship game.  This one today was neither competitive nor resembling the Vikings of prior seasons.

The Vikings and their rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, now 2-12, were outmatched by the playoff-bound Saints.  A slew of injuries at cornerback left them unable to hang with Drew Brees' record-bound offensive assault, Brees finished the first half 20/24 with 247 yards passing and three of his eventual five touchdowns.

Brees is the first player in history to complete 80% of his passes for 400 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Saints would eventually put backup QB Chase Daniel in to power a Chris Ivory-led running game, and finish with 573 yards on offense, allowing the Vikings on 226, 120 by Ponder and 60 by now-healthy RB Adrian Peterson, who gained 39 of those yards on one carry.

The Saints opened up with a 10-yard rush up the middle to Pierre Thomas, and two plays later Brees stepped up in the pocket and fired a jump pass to Jimmy Graham wide open over the middle.  Graham turned and was gang tackled near midfield and fumbled the ball forward.  S Jamarca Sanford scooped up the fumble and rushed down the sideline, escorted out of bounds by Zach Strief and Pierre Thomas at the Saint 26.  It was only the Saints' fourth lost fumble of the season.

On first down, healthy active Adrian Peterson rushed up the middle for a short gain, his first carry since November 20.  Newly-shorn Patrick Robinson, playing without his dreadlocks for the first time since 9th grade, dropped Percy Harvin for no gain on a tricky but well-read end-around on second down.  Rookie QB Christian Ponder, the Vikings' first round pick in April, fired incomplete into the end zone on third down.

So following the fumble, the Saints held the Vikings to zero yards on three plays and they settled for a Ryan Longwell field goal from 44 yards out, giving the home team an early 3-0 lead.

Taking over again, Chris Ivory pushed the pile for four yards up the middle but Darren Sproles dropped a pass wide open at the first down marker.  On third down, Brees looked for TE Jimmy Graham on a short out right, who had drawn a mismatch in coverage against DE Everson Griffen. But S Mistral Raymond closed fast and broke up the pass, leveling Graham and forcing a Thomas Morstead punt.

The Vikings picked up their first yards on their next snap, a stumbling rollout by the rookie quarterback who completed to Percy Harvin for four yards, banged out of bounds by Jo-Lonn Dunbar.  Peterson picked up the first first-down for the Vikings dragging linemen up the middle for six yards.  A nine-yard blast up the middle by Peterson was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on T Phil Loadholt.

A quick screen to Percy Harvin and a scramble by Ponder set up 3rd and 4 from the Viking 41.  Ponder ducked early in the pocket, feeling more pressure from the Saints blitz than was probably there, and fired a pass way over the head of TE Visanthe Shaincoe.

Brees took over following the Chris Kluwe punt at his own 16.  After a short gain up the middle by Ivory, Brees evaded a strong edge pass rush from DE Jared Allen and completed a pass to Robert Meachem in a pocket of the zone of the left sideline, who hung on after a heavy hit for a 13-yard gain.  A four yard out to Devery Henderson and a tackle-breaking, bowling over run by Chris Ivory picked up seven and the first down.  Brees put the Saints into Viking territory by sitting in the pocket forever, protected well, then found Colston between two defenders over the middle for a 16-yard gain.

That set up a play action rollout and bomb over the middle to Robert Meachem at the goal line and hit in stride by Brees.  Meachem was wide open, running a skinny post out of the right slot.  But a holding flag on Jed Collins against Brian Robison wiped out the score and pushed the Saints back to midfield.  Brees picked up the yardage on a comeback to Marques Colston, then on 2nd and 10 a classic Pierre Thomas screen - the kind that victimized the Vikings so often in their Superdome battles - picked up 25 yards down to the Viking 15.  Thomas gashed the Vikings again and rushed for 10 yards and a first down to the 5.

On the next play, Brees extended his touchdown streak with a jump ball to Lance Moore up the middle, his seventh touchdown catch of the season.  The visiting Saints went up 7-3 with 2:51 left in the first quarter.

Christian Ponder started the next drive by waiting in the pocket and taking off despite having Shaincoe running wide open over the middle.  Ponder gained 15 on the scramble before being dragged down by Vilma and Roman Harper.  A false start set the Vikings back 5, a Toby Gerhart carry for two, and a busted play with backup QB Joe Webb dropped by Cam Jordan for a three yard loss to set up 3rd and 15.  CB Patrick Robinson beat his block and busted up a quick screen to Harvin with a big helmet-down hit, forcing a Kluwe punt.

Sproles fielded the punt dangerously and was immediately leveled by LB Kenny Onatolu, a rare hard hit on the ever-escapable Sproles.  Brees with an outlet pass to FB Jed Collins picked up 12 yards as the first quarter ended.  Brees racked up 102 yards on 9/11 passing in three drives and one play of a fourth - despite having a 40-yard score called back.  The Vikings had just 37 total yards of offense - 8 yards passing, and 26 yards on a fumble return.  Meanwhile, the Vikings lost starting CB Asher Allen to a concussion early in this game.

Two snaps into the second quarter, Brian de la Puente snapped the ball right pass Brees' left hip as the quarterbacks' head was calling signals to the right side of the offense.  DE Everson Griffen raced past Brees and picked up the fumble before Brees chased him down and grabbed his leg at the Saint 21.

The Saints defense stiffened against the rookie QB, blowing up a screen pass to Gerhart, Roman Harper dropping Peterson for a six yard loss and Jeff Charleston sacking Ponder for a four yard loss.  After losing 10 yards following the fumble, Longwell made a 49 yard field goal.

Ivory up the middle for seven and a play action to Colston for seven picked up a first down.  A lofted screen to Darren Sproles with de la Puente and Carl Nicks and escorting picked up 39 yards, and a late hit out of bounds was called on Sanford, moving the Saints down to the Viking 12.  The late hit was not a good call- as Sproles had slowed up but was still in bounds when Sanford decked him.

It was the Saints offense's turn to dismantle itself, flagged for holding and then false start to make it 1st and 25 from the Viking 27.  Brees fired into the end zone for Colston on the next snap, who was obviously interfered with by LB EJ Henderson, who turned and ran into Colston, drawing a four straight play with a flag - defensive pass interference.

On 1st and goal following a flag-ridden series of plays, Brees lofted a fade to Graham, who made the rebound for the touchdown at the right sideline against Sanford.  After the play, Graham went to dunk the ball and EJ Henderson tried to push him during his jump.  Graham got the bucket and the harm and shouted at Henderson in the back of the end zone as a ref stepped in.

Payton surprised the Vikings with an onside kick, with Ramon Humber clearing out the first Viking and a host of Saints having a shot at recovering the loose ball.  Courtney Roby muffed the recovery before LB Will Herring had the best shot, falling on the ball but having it squirt out against his helmet.  The Vikings' Griffen finally recovered the ball at the Viking 39, the ball having advanced most than 20 yards after first contact.

The Vikings came out and pounded Adrian Peterson, who got 8, then stopped short of the line on second down by Greer to set up 3rd and short.  Peterson busted through the line with Malcolm Jenkins backpedaling in pursuit. Peterson, who hadn't played in weeks, appeared to pull up and slow before Jenkins tackled him at the Saint 13.  The 39 yard run nearly doubled the Vikings' offensive output up until that point - 40 yards.  It was also the first third down conversion for the Vikings, having failed to convert their previous four attempts.

The Vikings put backup QB Joe Webb in again, who threw a short pass right that was dropped and then scrambled for a long, painful two yard gain.  But on third down, Ponder flipped a shovel pass to Gerhart who flew from the four yard line, stretching the ball out at the goal line for a touchdown.

It appears that Payton's effort to keep the Saints emotionally engaged in the game with an onsides kick had backfired - the Vikings showed life for the first time all game and scored a touchdown to cut the Saints' lead to 14-13.

A Pierre Thomas run and a four yard pass short left set up third and inches, and the Saints converted with a Jed Collins push up the middle.  G Jahri Evans was slow getting up after the play with an apparently left knee injury.

OL Matt Tennant, at one point thought to inherit the starting center job from Jonathan Goodwin, entered the game for Evans at right guard and on first down drew DT Kevin Williams - a tough assignment for the second year player.  A rush up the middle by Sproles and a rollout pass to Lance Moore set up another 3rd and inches. An immediate jump pass by Brees to Jimmy Graham got the first down and a five yard gain, marking Brees' fourth career 400 completion season.

Brees to Moore picked up 30 yards as Brees rolled right again - away from DE Jared Allen, who entered the game with 17.5 sacks, having a quiet day so far.

A short loss on a carry by Thomas, and a second-down bomb to Jimmy Graham at the goal line was only Brees' third incompletion, setting up 3rd and 11 from the Viking 31.  Brees, dodging pressure in the pocket, fired for Lance Moore, who kneeled to make catch at the Viking 20.  Just another 3rd and long completion for Brees.

Finally some pressure by Jared Allen that forced an incomplete, and a six yard rush by Thomas set up 3rd and 4 from the Viking 13 with 1:38 left in the half.

As Allen begged his home crowd to get loud, Brees out of the shotgun dropped and hit Sproles on the time-honored angle route underneath.  Sproles beat coverage underneath easily, caught the pass and survived a monster hit from Henderson at the goal line, falling into the end zone.

Brees' fantastic 18/22, 211 yard first half had the Saints up 21-13 on his three touchdown passes.  That touchdown pass also set the Saints' single-game season record for touchdowns at 35, with Brees beating his own record set in 2008.

On Ponder's next snap, he was buried under a wave of pass rush by DE Junior Galette for a seven yard loss. The Saints called a timeout, then Galette buried Harvin on a screen pass for a short loss.  The Saints called their final time out before 3rd and 17, and Gerhart rushed for 8 yards to set up the punt.  The Vikings kept the clock running and punted with 34 seconds left in the half, Kluwe's kick bounding out of bounds at the Saint 33.

Brees came on the field with :27 left, and hit Colston over the middle for two gains down to the Viking 30 as time expired.  Brees sat and waited and waited and tried to find something down field but settled underneath. Thomas, Ivory and Sproles had 30, 20 and 10 yards rushing respectively.  The Vikings had 101 yards of total offense, with 39 on one carry by Peterson and only 18 from the arm of rookie QB Christian Ponder.

In the second half, Brees led the Saints to three straight touchdown drives while the Vikings floundered, opening the half with five straight three-and-outs.

After a good return by Sproles, who would finish with 152 all-purpose yards, the Saints moved 56 yards in four plays.  A strike to Graham for 18, Sproles gains of six and 18 to the two yard line set up John Gilmore, Jr's first touchdown in two stints as a Saint.  The 11-season veteran's catch put the Saints up 28-13.

On the next drive, Brees took advantage of another big return by Sproles and three plays later hit Lance Moore over the middle, avoiding a tackler and running away from a third for a 47-yard touchdown.

A sack by Roman Harper was flagged for roughing the passer, but the Vikings punted fours plays later.  From his own 13, Brees led a drive that would put the nail in the coffin - a 19-play drive that begin with 8:26 left on the clock in the third quarter and was capped by Pierre Thomas' one-yard plunge with 12:53 left in the game. Thomas' score came after an apparent two-yard scoring run by Sproles was nullified by replay.

Backup QB Chase Daniel entered the game on the next drive and led the offense on a 10-play drive that ended with a missed 50-yard field goal by John Kasay.  Ponder would find a second touchdown pass on the day, hitting Gerhardt with a screen play touchdown out of shotgun from 16 yards out with 5:19 left in the game.

Following Ponder's touchdown pass, Daniel came back in and handed off to Ivory six straight times, the final time on 4th and inches when Ivory was dropped for a loss by DT Fred Evans, who beat Brian de la Puete into the backfield.  Taking over at his own 24, Ponder threw 11 straight plays, getting his team to the Saint 35 before CB Patrick Robinson intercepted an overthrown pass into the end zone that was intended for Devin Aromashodu.

The Saints held DE Jared Allen to only 2.5 sacks and protected Brees well all day.  Brees now has 11 300-yard passing games this season, the most in NFL history in a single season.

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