The Vikings returned to the scene of last season’s NFC Championship Game loss in New Orleans on Thursday night to begin the 2010 season, but unfortunately the outcome was similar to how their 2009 season concluded. The Saints, riding high off of last season’s Super Bowl victory, defeated the Vikings by a 14-9 count in a tightly-contested battle that set the stage nicely for the NFL’s opening weekend.
The NFL has a tradition where the defending Super Bowl champions open the season at home by hosting an intriguing opponent. Given the classic NFC Championship Game the Vikings and Saints put together a season ago, there was no more intriguing opponent for the defending Super Bowl champs than the very team they defeated to earn a spot in the NFL’s Big Game.
New Orleans had the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in 2009 and that unit took the field first on Thursday evening. And they didn’t miss a beat from last year. QB Drew Brees and Co. opened the season as champs should, driving 77 yards in 5 plays and 2:04 to take a quick 7-0 lead. The New Orleans defense, backed by a frenzied home crowd, then forced a Vikings 3-and-out and it looked like a route was on.
But that’s when the Vikings dug in their heels. Thanks to a hard-nosed defense, the guidance of 20-year pro QB Brett Favre and the determined running of superstar Adrian Peterson, the Vikings fought their way back and actually took a lead into the locker room at halftime. Minnesota owned the 2nd quarter, as Favre led the offense on 2 scoring drives – one of which was capped by a 41-yard FG from Ryan Longwell and the other culminating in an acrobatic 20-yard TD pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe.
The Vikings led 9-7 at halftime – the PAT following Shiancoe’s TD was blocked – and it appeared another class Vikings-Saints showdown was in story. But from there the offensive excitement fizzled.
Favre, Peterson and the Vikings offense couldn’t get anything going in the 2nd half. They had just 1 drive of more than 4 plays in the 2nd half and the Vikings never got closer than the Saints 20-yardline during the entire game. Brees wasn’t having much more success than Favre, although the Saints did drive 74 yards in 11 plays to tack on a Pierre Thomas 1-yard TD run early in the 3rd quarter.
That 3rd-quarter TD gave the Saints a 14-9 lead that they would never relinquish. Both offenses struggled to gain rhythm, largely because both defenses were playing well. The Vikings punted 7 times on the night and had a pair of good scoring opportunities in the 2nd half cut short by a sack and then a lost challenge.
New Orleans’ offense wasn’t any more impressive in the 2nd half, although they were able to rush the ball against the Vikings typically stingy-against-the-run defense to the point where they controlled the clock and kept Favre off the field at the end of the game.
With all of the buildup and hype to this game, the loss is a tough one to take. But Thursday night’s contest against the Saints was just 1 of 16 regular season games the Vikings will play in 2010. The Purple will have a chance to recapture the magic in 9 days when they host the Miami Dolphins at Mall of America Field in the Vikings 2010 home opener.
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