It's been 51 weeks since Sam Bradford started his first game for the Vikings -- just two weeks after the team traded for him following Teddy Bridgewater's gruesome knee injury. All Bradford did in that first appearance was lead Minnesota to an improbable win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
On Monday night, the Vikings hosted the high-powered Saints. And just like a year ago, Bradford was the star of the show. When it was over, he was 27 of 32 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. Bradford was clinical in every sense of the word, from his pre-snap reads, his decisiveness in the pocket, and his accuracy on throws that ranged from garden-variety to impossible.
Bradford's performance was enough to make you wonder if there was a unit in the league that could slow him down -- and then you remember that the Saints' defense, which ranked 31st a season ago (only the Lions were worse, according to Football Outsiders' metrics), may actually be worse in 2017.
Of course, one game does not a season make; a year ago, the Vikings started 5-0 before flailing their way to an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs altogether. That said, Minnesota went 11-5 in 2015 and should have beaten Seattle in the wild-card game that shall not be mentioned. Meanwhile, New Orleans hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2013 and had gone 7-9 in each of the three seasons since. There's no reason to think those fortunes change in 2017 after what we witnessed in Minnesota on Monday night.
Here are seven takeaways from the Vikings' win over the Saints:
Hats off to the Vikings' offensive line
Consider this: A season ago, the Vikings' offensive line ranked 17th in pass protection and 30th in run blocking. The unit entered the season opener with five new starters, including former Lions first-rounder Reilly Reiff at left tackle, former Panther Mike Remmers at right tackle and rookie Pat Elfein at center. With this trio on the field the Vikings became the first team in a decade with starters at left tackle, right tackle and center making their team debut in the season opener. The last team to do it, the '07 Cardinals, finished 8-8, and the offensive line ranked ninth in pass protection and 10th in run blocking.
New Viking LT Riley Reiff:— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) September 12, 2017
35 Pass Block Snaps
0 Sacks Allowed
0 Hits Allowed
0 Hurries Allowed
On the evening, the Vikings' new-look offensive line surrendered just one sack while allowing Bradford time to throw for 346 yards, and the running backs to rush for another 129 yards.
Sam Bradford becomes the 3rd Vikings QB to throw for 300+ yards in Week 1 with 308 tonight. It was last done in 1981 by Steve Dils (361).— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) September 12, 2017
Drew Brees has long enjoyed great protection, though that wasn't the case against the Vikings, especially after offensive tackle Zach Strief went down with an injury in the second quarter. Brees was pressured often, and when he wasn't, he appeared hurried in the pocket, no doubt a combination of lacking faith in the remaining offensive linemen and a receiving corps that was without Brandin Cooks, the team's second-leading receiver a year ago.
Also not helping: a running game that now includes Adrian Peterson.
Adrian Peterson looks like a 32-year-old running back
It was big news when Adrian Peterson signed with the Saints in April, and his teammates couldn't talk him up enough during offseason workouts. But the reality is that he's on the wrong side of 30 and hasn't been Adrian Peterson since the 2015 season, when he rushed for at least 100 yards seven different times.
For an idea of just how different a player Peterson is now, consider these tweets:
Unless Adrian Peterson (18 yards) unexpectedly gets 10 more he will not have reached 100 yards in his last 4 games combined: 43 totes for 90— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 12, 2017
Adrian Peterson’s 6 carries tonight would match a career low, and his 18 rush yards would be tied for the 3rd-lowest total of his career.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 12, 2017
Peterson's final stat line: six carries, 18 yards, no touchdowns.
So how does this end for Peterson and the Saints?
Peterson had just four carries for 14 yards in the first half, and as we now know, he finished with just six carries for 18 yards. Neither Ingram or Kamara were better -- they had 17 and 18 yards, respectively -- but the glaring difference is that Ingram is 27 and Kamara is 22.
During voluntary workouts Peterson's new teammates couldn't stop marveling at how much he resembled, well, Adrian Peterson.
"He's a stud, man. He looks the part," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in early June. "There's something about handing the ball off to that guy and watching him run through the hole and take on anybody who tries to tackle him."
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro added: "It's ridiculous. He has not lost any steps. Wait, just watch. He's so explosive ... just in flat shoes out there."
We saw none of that against the Vikings and, to paraphrase Rick Pitino, history suggests that the old AP ain't walkin' through that door.about what we could expect from a 32-year-old Peterson:
A feature back's existence, in general, burns brightly before flaming out. The good news is that Peterson could have a bounce-back year in '17 and live up to the praise we've heard from his new teammates in recent weeks. But the reality is that, beyond next season, it's more likely than not that Peterson will be just a shell of himself. There is no shame in that because unless you're a franchise quarterback, professional football is a young man's game. ...
And that's to be expected because running back is among the most fungible positions in football; teams can find comparable -- or better -- production from younger, cheaper players. It's why you don't see high-priced running backs in their 30s littering NFL rosters while the Tom Bradys of the world can still be at the top of their game as a soon-to-be 40-year-old.
We're sure both coach Sean Payton and Peterson will downplay their sideline conversation but it certainly won't help the running back's current predicament.
Cook goes Adrian Peterson against Adrian Peterson
The Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round.
Dalvin Cook just broke Adrian Peterson’s record for rushing yards by a Vikings rookie in his debut. And he did it right in front of AP too.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 12, 2017
Specifically, Cook's 127 rushing yards broke Peterson's previous record for yards in a Vikings debut -- 103 in 2007.
Saints have no answer for Diggs
Stefon Diggs finished with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, though that doesn't do justice to what he perpetrated against the Saints' secondary. Here's touchdown No. 1:
Here's touchdown No. 2:
And even illegal hits weren't enough to keep Diggs from making plays:
That all happened in the first 30 minutes. Here's Diggs on the Vikings' first drive of the third quarter:
As impressive as Diggs was, he didn't lead the team in receiving. That honor went to the former undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State, Adam Theilen, who had nine receptions for 157 yards.
Was this the greatest pass in the history of tackle football?
Look, Bradford was on point on Sunday, but he was also facing 11 cardboard cutouts who looked like they had never played football before today.
It's a fantastic throw, but situations matter. Is it better than David Tyree's helmet catch, or Santonio Holmes toe-tap touchdown grab, both of which helped the Giants and Steelers win the Lombardi Trophy? Either way, you know the Vikings' offense had a great night when this is one of the issues we're debating.
The winless Saints host the winless Patriots at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday on CBS. Brace yourself for some truly awful defense in that game. And the Vikings (1-0) travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (1-0), a 1 p.m. ET start that will air on FOX.