Sam Bradford started his second season with Minnesota in style, passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns to help the Vikings beat New Orleans 29-19 on Monday night and spoil Adrian Peterson’s first game with the Saints.
Peterson was an afterthought once the Saints fell behind. Drew Brees was quiet, too, with 291 yards on 27-for-37 passing padded by the late push to catch up. Coby Fleener caught the only touchdown toss, after the two-minute warning. Will Lutz made four field goals, three under 25 yards.
Brees and Bradford are both in the final year of their contracts, with the same agent, Tom Condon, who is sure to cash in on both clients. Brees has by far the better resume, nine seasons further into his career, but Bradford stole the show on this prime-time stage.
Behind mostly clean pockets created by a remade offensive line, Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes without a turnover. With three rookies and three free agents in the starting lineup, the Saints tried hard to better a defense that has held Brees and company back since the Super Bowl title eight years ago. The first performance left a lot to be desired, with Diggs and Thielen consistently finding favorable matchups underneath.
There were three unnecessary roughness calls in the first half by the Saints. Two of the personal fouls aided a drive that ended with one of three field goals by Kai Forbath, who missed one extra point. The other 15-yarder was on safety Kenny Vaccaro for head-hunting Diggs during an acrobatic catch in the closing seconds of the first half. Diggs came right back with another highlight-reel grab to give the Vikings a 16-6 lead at the break.
Cameron Jordan and AJ Klein each had their hands on a tipped pass in the end zone that fluttered off Cook’s hands, missing a critical opportunity to thwart that drive and keep the deficit at four points.
In Denver, Shelby Harris got a hand on Younghoe Koo’s 44-yard field goal attempt with a second left, helping the Broncos begin the Vance Joseph era with a 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night. Moments earlier, Koo had nailed the kick, but Joseph called a timeout to ice the kicker. On the re-do, Harris who made the team because of a rash of injuries along the D-line sliced through and got his right hand on the kick.
It was reminiscent of last year’s opener, when the Broncos escaped with a 21-20 win over the Carolina Panthers when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with four seconds left.
Denver took a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter but had two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns, a missed field goal and a punt. Before those fourth-quarter errors, Trevor Siemian threw two touchdown passes to Bennie Fowler and ran for another score.