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John DeShazier: Defense delivers as Saints lock down first win of 2014

Defense holds the Vikings to three field goals in 20-9 triumph

Drew Brees' shove ignited the New Orleans Saints offense. But before and after that third-quarter incident, the Saints defense did its own share of pushing Sunday.

The combination helped the Saints win their home opener this season, a 20-9 victory over Minnesota in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that broke New Orleans (1-2) into the win column as it prepares for a nationally televised, Sunday night game in Dallas against the Cowboys (2-1) next week.

The Saints now have won 18 consecutive games in the Superdome with Sean Payton as head coach.

The Brees reaction occurred on the final play of the third quarter, and helped the Saints produce a 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that proved to be the final points of the game.

On third-and-13 from the Saints' 32-yard line, Brees was sacked for a 9-yard loss by Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and strong safety Robert Blanton on a blitz. But in the process of the sack, Munnerlyn, who was tackling Brees from behind, lifted the Saints quarterback off the turf and slammed him down, Monday Night Raw-style.

Munnerlyn was penalized for unnecessary roughness to give the Saints a first down but before any of that could be announced, Brees had sprung to his feet and shoved the nearest Viking (Blanton), igniting the Superdome crowd and giving his offensive teammates a rallying point.

The Saints led 13-9 at the time. That play became one of three third-down conversions on the drive, which ended on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Marques Colston with 12:22 left.

"That was straight Hulk Hogan, 1985, Wrestlemania suplex," said Brees, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception. "It got us the 15 yards, got us another set of downs and obviously, ended up helping us go on a 90-yard drive and made it a two-possession game."

It also was a confidence-boost for the offense, which opened the game with two touchdown drives – 80 yards in 11 plays on the first, 82 yards in seven plays on the second – to take a 13-0 lead, then bogged down for most of the next two quarters.

In the second and third quarters, the Saints punted on four consecutive possessions, went 3 for 7 on third down, committed a penalty and had an aborted snap between Brees and Tim Lelito, who'd replaced the injured Jonathan Goodwin at center.

On the final scoring drive, the Saints converted a couple of third-and-7 plays in addition to the penalty conversion. Then the offense managed to run out the final 6:58 after the Vikings were forced to punt, converting on third-and-10 from the Saints' 16-yard line, third-and-11 from the Minnesota 47 and third-and-3 from the Vikings 17 when defensive end Everson Griffen committed a neutral zone infraction.

Meanwhile, the Saints' defense kept the Vikings out of the end zone and kept the Saints ahead on the scoreboard. New Orleans held Minnesota to 247 yards and 13 first downs, and the Vikings converted just 6 of 15 third-down attempts.

The Vikings drove and were first-and-10 and first-and-goal from the Saints' 12- and 7-yard lines in the second quarter, and wound up settling for Blair Walsh field goals of 25 and 30 yards.

The drive to the 12 ended at the 7 on Matt Cassel's 5-yard scramble on third down, and the drive to the 7 was pushed back to the 12 because the Saints sacked Teddy Bridgewater (who replaced an injured Cassel) for an 8-yard loss, tackled running back Matt Asiata for a 5-yard loss on a short pass and stopped Asiata after an 8-yard run on third down.

"We just played a lot of stuff, I think, that we're comfortable with, that we've (had a lot of repetitions in) during training camp," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We talked about it all week – we've got to eliminate the communication issues on the back end because we're the last line of defense, and I think we did that and were able to keep them out of the end zone.

"We talked all week about finishing, and that includes on drives. Just because they get in the red zone doesn't mean you can't stop them, holding them to three or zero if they miss (a field-goal attempt). That was a big focus of ours – just keep playing."

Outside linebacker Junior Galette, who had one of the Saints' two sacks, said if the Saints surrender yards, they want to make sure they tighten at the critical time.

"We feel like, they get down there, so what?" Galette said. "Now you've got to bow up, guys are tired, man up and just stop them from getting seven as opposed to three. It would have been a whole different game if they'd gotten seven every time."

Said Brees: "At the end of the day, the most important stat for a defense is points allowed. Certainly, getting turnovers for the offense and creating opportunities are important. Who cares about total defense in regards to yards? Let them drive up and down the field. If you stop them in the red zone, then you are going to win a lot of games."

In order to win a lot of games, the Saints had to win their first. Sunday, they broke through.

"It was good to get a win," Payton said. "It wasn't perfect, but I thought we played hard. I thought we corrected some of the things we really spent much of the week working on from an emphasis standpoint.

"I thought we tackled better. I thought offensively in the second half, we got a little slow, a little sloppy and we had some minus plays. These are things we are obviously going to have to clean up.

"All in all, it was good to get that first win."

Photos from the Saints vs Vikings game on Sunday, September 21, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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