Saints look for bounce-back win against Vikings
The New Orleans Saints are in the playoffs.
But they’ve lost two games in a row after winning nine straight. They have failed two weeks in a row to clinch the NFC South title. They have dropped from the No. 1 seed to the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
And now they get a reminder of the disappointing end to last season as they host the Minnesota Vikings in the penultimate game of this season on Christmas afternoon.
It was 51 weeks ago that the Vikings went into the Superdome and upset the Saints 26-20 in a wild-card game.
“Last year, we were flat and we played poorly,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
New Orleans (10-4) is hardly panicking though. It’s still the No. 2 seed in the conference and can pass Green Bay with some help. It needs just one win or one Tampa Bay loss to clinch its fourth consecutive division title.
Nonetheless, Payton said, “this has got to be a bounce-back week.”
The Saints lost to Philadelphia two weeks ago to drop to 3-1 in the games that Drew Brees missed because of rib and lung injuries.
Brees returned last week and showed plenty of rust in the first half before finding some rhythm. Despite the slow start, the Saints stayed with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs before narrowly losing, 32-29.
“You want to be playing your best football going into the playoffs,” Brees said. “We understand that we’ve sealed a playoff spot. But, the most important factor right now is for us to win and win the division, and then, continue to kind of build on and ascend, going into the playoffs.”
New Orleans has lost back-to-back games for the first time since the first two games of the 2017 season, which also included a 29-19 loss to the Vikings.
“It’s been a long time since we lost back to back,” said safety CJ Gardner-Johnson, who was a sophomore at Florida when it last happened. “We’re not going to let that happen again.”
One thing the Saints likely don’t have to worry about happening again is a playoff game against Minnesota.
The Vikings (6-8) need to win their last two games and see Arizona lose its last two and Chicago lose at least once to qualify.
Minnesota’s injury-plagued defense had nine players on the injury report Tuesday, including star linebacker Eric Kendricks, who has missed the last three games because of a calf injury.
“I have seen some strides from the guys we’re playing with (on defense),” coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Vikings allowed the Bears’ David Montgomery to rush for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns last week in Chicago’s win.
With Brees less than 100 percent and All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas on injured reserve, New Orleans might be inclined to emphasize the run with Alvin Kamara and former Viking Latavius Murray.
Kamara has gained nearly 800 yards both rushing and receiving yards and has scored 15 touchdowns.
“We didn’t play very well against the run (against the Bears). We didn’t tackle very well,” Zimmer said. “Kamara’s obviously a great back. He’s got really, really good feet. He’s hard to tackle. They use him in more variety of ways. We’re just going to have to do a better job in some of the cutback and power runs than we did last week.”
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who had 132 yards and a touchdown against Chicago, and rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who had eight catches for 104 yards, were both Pro Bowl selections this week.
–Field Level Media