MINNEAPOLIS -- The New Orleans Saints are steamrolling toward another playoff appearance and eyeing a second Super Bowl trophy in three years.
The Minnesota Vikings are plummeting head-long into the NFL abyss again, with their appearance in the NFC title game against the Saints less than two years ago a distant memory.
Sometimes it's too easy when analyzing NFL teams to look exclusively at the quarterbacks. But in this case, that's the obvious reason for the current disparity between teams that slugged it out with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line in January 2010.
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Drew Brees passed for 412 yards and five touchdowns to lead the surging Saints to their sixth victory in a row, 42-20 against the free-falling Vikings on Sunday.
Brees completed 32 of 40 passes to help the Saints (11-3) overcome a slow and sloppy start to stay two games ahead of Atlanta in the NFC South.
"I'm as comfortable now in this offense as I've ever been," said Brees, who credited the team's stability in the front office, the coaching staff and the roster with his success this season.
His latest masterpiece has him breathing down Dan Marino's neck in the record books, only 304 yards away from the Hall of Famer's single-season passing record set in 1984.
"I'm aware that we're close," Brees said. "I just know if we keep doing what we're doing, all of that stuff will take care of itself."
All the Vikings could do while getting dissected by Brees for most of the afternoon was hope that one day rookie Christian Ponder will establish himself as a playmaker even in the same solar system as Brees.
The Vikings drafted Ponder 12th overall and gave him the starting job in Week 7. After some promising signs early in his tenure, Ponder has taken a few steps back in the past three weeks. He was 14 of 31 for 120 yards and two touchdowns to Toby Gerhart, but most of that production came in the final six minutes.
The lackluster performance had coach Leslie Frazier being peppered with questions about Ponder's long-term viability at the position.
"I don't want to measure purely on the last two weeks," said Frazier, whose Vikings (2-12) will likely have one of the top picks in the draft in April. "I want to see what happens these next two weeks."
If Ponder was watching closely, he saw quarterbacking at its highest level on the other side of the field.
The Saints struggled to get going early, turning the ball over twice deep in their own territory, failing to recover a surprise onside kick and committing a holding penalty to negate a 40-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem, all in the first half.
But a great quarterback can cover up a lot of imperfections, and that's what Brees did by the end of the day. He threw two touchdown passes to Lance Moore and one each to Darren Sproles, John Gilmore and Jimmy Graham in just over three quarters of work to blow out an overmatched opponent.
|New Orleans Saints|
|In a game where the Saints started slow with dropped passes, uncharacteristic fumbles and a meandering running game, QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense quickly turned things around and proceeded to dismantle the Vikings (42-20). With Brees earning passing records and the Saints defense completely shutting down the Minnesota offense (199 yards), the Saints looked playoff ready.|
|The 2-12 Vikings played like a beaten team against the Saints. With a hobbled RB Adrian Peterson unable to provide a spark and QB Christian Ponder (although protecting the ball) misfiring often to open receivers, the offense accomplished little that wasn’t gifted to them by Saints turnovers or grabbed in garbage time. The Vikings defense could do nothing against the Saints No. 1 offense.|
|By Joe Oberle |
"For me, it's motivation," Ponder said. "I always want to be the best guy on the field. Obviously Drew is a heck of a quarterback, and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I want to be better than him one day, honestly."
It's clear that Ponder, and the Vikings, have a long way to get to reach that level.
The Saints outgained the Vikings 573-207, had 36 first downs to Minnesota's four and held a 17-minute advantage in time of possession. The Saints' much-maligned secondary held the Vikings to 102 net yards passing and sacked Ponder four times.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 60 yards in his return from a three-game absence, but the Vikings dropped their sixth straight. Their depleted secondary lost cornerback Asher Allen to a concussion in the first half and they had no chance once Brees and the Saints got rolling.
The Saints stumbled out of the gates, with Graham fumbling a first-down catch, Sproles dropping what would have been another first down and Meachem's 40-yard touchdown catch wiped out because of a holding call on fullback Jed Collins.
After Brees hit Moore for a 5-yard touchdown pass, the Saints turned the ball over again when Brees wasn't ready for a shotgun snap from Brian De La Puente that squirted right past him. Everson Griffen scooped the ball up and gave the Vikings great field position at the 21.
Thanks to stout play from the Saints' defense, the Vikings had to settle for two field goals. Then Brees put his foot on the gas, and it was all over.
He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sproles toward the end of the first half, then started the third quarter with a 2-yard TD to Gilmore and hooked up with Moore on a 47-yard score to make it 35-13.
"Experienced teams, veteran teams, winning teams will find a way to push through the challenges and adversities every game will bring upon you," Brees said. "You just have to realize it's not always going to be perfect."
Brees and the Saints are just making it look that way.
- Brees went over 40,000 yards passing for his career and became the first to top 350 yards passing in a game seven times in a season.
- Moore had five catches for 91 yards, Marques Colston had eight catches for 91 yards, and Graham had seven catches for 70 yards.
- Saints CB Patrick Robinson intercepted Ponder's pass on the last play of the game.
- Vikings CB Benny Sapp was benched for the first two plays of the game for disciplinary reasons.