The Minneapolis Mauling: The Saints Proved That This Season Is Different In Matter-Of-Factly SKOL'ding The Vikings
You know, for a vengeful road victory in the building in which their hearts were 9 months removed from being ripped out in the type of traumatizing fashion that's undoubtedly been replayed in their head as often as it's been replayed on seemingly every league-wide commercial, last night's Saints' win didn't require anywhere near as much suspense as expected. "Get a win and get the hell out" was probably nothing more than the latest of Drew Brees' contagiously competitive rallying cries, but I'll be damned if it didn't look as though it was their mission statement in matter-of-factly manhandling Minnesota for the majority of the game.
Of course, the first couple drives didn't exactly serve as the grandest of opening in them taking care of business. The Vikings, somewhat predictably, took advantage of a secondary that had its question marks even before injuries forced them to insert their brand new addition of Eli Apple into the starting lineup. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs did what Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs all-too-familiarly do in making plays all over the field, and a focus in failing to stop them allowed Latavius Murray to gash a defense that momentarily took for granted their dominance in stopping the run this season.
âThat, however, all changed with a fumble that was forced by the player that probably needed it the most. During a game in which redemption was undoubtedly on their mind, P.J. Williams' performance encapsulated the Saints' vindictive victory as his early struggles were all but forgotten with the forcing of one timely fumble. His pick-6 later in the second half added an exclamation point to the most unexpected of exonerations...
...but the strip that ultimately sent the Saints soaring into the second half with the lead was unquestionably the turning point that tilted the field in their favor and allowed for what, at times, has been a disgraced defense to redeem itself.
Cam Jordan was his incredibly commanding self, Sheldon Rankins showed out, and Marcus Davenport once again flashed his freakish athleticism as the pass rush feasted on an underwhelming offensive line that proved no match when forced to play from behind. Simply put, shades of the inspired and opportunistic defense that helped turn around a sluggish start last season were on full display.
There's a reason that were five paragraphs into a write-up about a double-digit win over a formidable opponent in an unforgiving environment and the name Drew Brees is only now being mentioned. That reason is that the Saints may have turned in the most statistically encouraging performance of the Sean Payton era. By that, I don't mean that their future HOF quarterback made a mockery of yet another pass defense, but rather that he put up relatively paltry numbers because that's all that was required of him. New Orleans not only cruised to a comfortable win, but they let their largely overworked leader take a backseat as a passenger to a complete pounding. 120 yards and as many interceptions (his 1st of the season, mind you) as touchdowns is the type of box score that, without context, would Saints' fans brooding, and yet it's the one that Drew Brees posted in his team's tumultuous transfusion of the baddest of blood. Sean Payton gave us a reminder that he's slowly but surely painting his masterpiece this season with a three quarterback set that followed a Taysom Hill bomb to Michael Thomas, but - other than that - nothing crazy was needed from an offense that was simply methodical in eating minutes to ice the game.
Regardless of the cliched answers they gave prior, last night's win meant more than most to a young, prideful team who took it's most embarrassing gut punch from the hands of the Vikings. That was made as clear as it was already obvious when the postgame rolled around and the PC act finally got dropped...
More so than they have all season, the winners of six straight are starting to feel themselves, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. This Saints' team was surfing on swag following the type of team win that solidified their spot near the top of the conference, and with their biggest competition for said spot in an undefeated Rams team coming to town next Sunday there's no better time for them to be riding that wave of collective confidence.
Last night wasn't just about sticking it to the Minnesota Vikings and a fanbase that's had far too many laughs at the Saints' expense since their sour end to last season. It was also about continuing to go grow and improve as a versatile and very real threat to the rest of the league. They did just that (with no miracles necessary), but - though they waved a powerful goodbye to a team they not-so-secretly had circled on the schedule - the following wise words shouldn't be left unspoken...