Bradford, Vikings drub Saints, spoil Peterson’s return
MINNEAPOLIS — For the first quarter Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints traded long field-goal drives, seeming to feel out the opponent and a new season.
After another Saints field goal in the second quarter, Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford connected with receiver Adam Thielen for 35 yards. The next play, Bradford went to Jarius Wright for 21 yards. An 18-yard pass to a wide-open Stefon Diggs capped the three-play, 74-yard drive with a touchdown.
The Vikings found their offense, the defense tightened against the league’s No. 1 offense from last season, and Minnesota was on its way to a convincing 29-19 win against the New Orleans Saints.
Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, and the Vikings spoiled Adrian Peterson’s return.
“I (thought) those couple plays just got us going,” Bradford said. “I think once that happened, it really just opened the door a little bit and kind of opened things up for us.”
Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes with no turnovers. Diggs had two touchdown receptions in the first half to go with 93 yards receiving in the game, and Thielen finished with nine receptions for 157 yards.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph added a touchdown reception in the second half for Minnesota (1-0).
“I feel like everybody was feeding off each other’s energy,” Diggs said. “Everybody was playing as a team, as a unit. The line was doing a great job, Sam was slinging it around. You guys finally get to see what I’ve been seeing.”
With Peterson on the opposite sideline in his New Orleans debut, Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook ran 22 times for 127 yards.
Peterson got the first two carries of the game and picked up a first down, but he was silent afterward as the Saints’ offense — which led the NFL with an average of 426 yards per game last year — had little room to run and few open receivers.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was 27 of 37 for 291 yards and one touchdown.
Peterson, who is Minnesota’s all-time rushing leader with 11,747 yards, finished with six carries for 18 yards in a timeshare with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
“It felt pretty good,” Peterson said of his first two carries. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming in. We talked about running the ball a little more, but for whatever reason got away from it. That’s how the game played out. ...
“Their defense came out and played well. It is what it is.”
The Saints (0-1) kicked field goals on their first four trips to the red zone before Brees connected with tight end Coby Fleener for an 8-yard touchdown with 1:56 left in the game. New Orleans finished with 344 yards of offense — just 113 yards through the first 45 minutes of the game — and was 4 of 11 on third downs.
“Obviously we settled for too many field goals offensively, and then all of the sudden, got into catch-up mode,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought early on, defensively, we did some good things and then there was a series that breaks it open in the second quarter. I felt like when we got into the second half, we were having trouble stopping much of anything.”
Bradford got comfortable behind his much-maligned offensive line, and the Vikings took to the air against the New Orleans defense.
Minnesota started four new players along the line. New tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers signed as free agents, center Pat Elflein was selected in the third round of the draft, and Nick Easton took over at left guard after the release of Alex Boone last week.
The group — with Boone still with the No. 1 offensive line — struggled in the preseason but came together in the opener with little time to work together in practices.
Bradford was sacked just once, and the Vikings averaged 4.3 yards per carry with Cook breaking two long runs in the second half.
“Those guys up front, they did a great job all week just making sure that they were prepared,” Bradford said. “I think it showed with the way they played tonight. They played fast. They played confident. We were getting out of the huddle. I thought the tempo was great tonight. We were getting to the line early, and I think we put pressure on them.”
NOTES: New Orleans RT Zach Strief left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury and didn’t return. ... Longtime Vikings WR Randy Moss was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during halftime. Moss is second to former teammate Cris Carter in receptions (587), receiving yards (9,316) and receiving touchdowns (92) from his eight seasons in Minnesota. ... WR Stefon Diggs’ two first-half touchdowns were the first for a Minnesota player in one half of the season opener since Moss accomplished the feat in 2004. ... With second-round RB Dalvin Cook and third-round C Pat Elflein starting, it marked the first time two rookies started on offense for the Vikings since 1963.