Despite scoring fewer points Sunday than in any home game since the 2010 regular season finale, the Saints saw one huge positive offensively in their 20-9 victory against Minnesota.
They started fast and finished strong.
New Orleans scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, facing only one third down on each of them.
The Saints drove 90 yards for a touchdown on their second-to-last possession and ate up the final 6:58 the next time they had the ball, picking up five first downs.
“Those are two things we talk a lot about,” tackle Zach Strief said. “We certainly are proud of how we responded at the end. It’s good to finish with the offense on the field, something that maybe in the past we haven’t been so good at.”
Last year, the Saints went three-and-out twice in a row in the fourth quarter while protecting a 13-10 lead against Carolina. The Panthers scored a late touchdown that cost New Orleans the NFC South title.
Earlier in the season, the Saints went three-and-out twice in a row with a 27-23 lead against New England. The Patriots scored a touchdown with five seconds left to win.
“Look, that’s pretty significant when you can burn up five, six minutes like that and end the game taking a knee,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It’s something we’ve been working on.”
Forcing more turnovers was a huge priority for the Saints after they finished fourth-to-last in the NFL with 19 takeaways in 2013.
They have not achieved the desired results yet. The Vikings had zero turnovers, leaving the Saints with one takeaway in three games. That one came in the season opener, when safety Jairus Byrd stripped Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and Corey White recovered it.
“We have to come together as a unit and figure out how we’re going to get takeaways,” Byrd said. “Things aren’t gonna just be easy where, ‘Here’s a ball.’ They don’t come like that.”
The Saints signed Byrd in the offseason in part because he had 22 interceptions in five years with Buffalo. At this point, though, former Saints Malcolm Jenkins (two) and Roman Harper (one) have combined for three more interceptions than New Orleans as a team.
“They’re (turnovers) coming,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “I’m not really worried about that. We brought in a guy (Byrd) who leads the league in turnovers the last five years. He’s not going to just not get turnovers anymore. We constantly stress it. They’re coming.”
After two quiet games, defensive end Cameron Jordan registered his first sack of the year in the fourth quarter, getting to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Asked Monday if the sacks were going to come in bunches from this point on, Jordan lamented one that got away two plays later.
“I thought they were going to come in bunches on that whole series,” he said. “I thought I had another one two plays later, and I did not. Bridgewater moved really well, and I didn’t know he was quick like that. I underestimated him a little bit speedwise.”
The Saints sacked Bridgewater twice, but the other one came when he tripped over an offensive lineman’s foot as he eluded linebacker Junior Galette.
The Saints were not about to apologize for letting Minnesota hang around until the fourth quarter despite the absence of running back Adrian Peterson.
“Winning by double digits in the NFL, we’ll take it every time,” Strief said. “Whether people feel that it’s ugly or we’re supposed to blow everybody out at home or whatever, that’s fine. The way the win came was good for us.”
The difference between starting 0-3 and 1-2 was palpable.
“Everything’s better when you win,” Vaccaro said. “Twitter’s a little easier to get on. Y’all are asking better questions. You can hold your head high when you’re in public. That’s the way it goes.”
The Saints-Vikings game was the only the third one in the NFL this year without a turnover. … Payton said linebacker Ramon Humber, who had three tackles and a deflection in relief of the injured David Hawthorne, graded out well. … Payton praised demoted cornerback Patrick Robinson for his kick coverage. Robinson made two tackles on special teams.