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New Orleans Saints defensive penalties prove pivotal on late, lead-taking touchdown drive by Minnesota

Saints led 22-19 when defense hit with two costly infractions

New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings.

New Orleans Saints Coach Dennis Allen didn't literally bite his tongue, but he didn't go as far as he could have and maybe wanted to when he said, "I wasn't a fan of some of the calls."

Neither Allen, nor Saints players, suggested officiating was the reason New Orleans lost its third consecutive game Sunday, a 28-25 decision to Minnesota at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Two turnovers again supplied a large tipping point toward the final outcome, as did several infractions that were inarguable.

But a couple of defensive penalties were substantial for the Saints (1-3) on the Minnesota touchdown drive that led to the Vikings taking a 25-22 lead in the fourth quarter, and helped the Vikings across the finish line in regulation when Wil Lutz's 61-yard field-goal attempt to tie the score at the end of regulation hit the upright, then the crossbar before falling back into the end zone.

With the Vikings facing third-and-10 from their 49-yard line, trailing 22-19 with 5:36 left, Kirk Cousins' deep pass attempt for receiver Adam Thielen was incomplete. But Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu was cited for illegal use of hands – Mathieu said afterward that he absolutely didn't have a hand in the receiver's face, and replay appeared to back him – and Minnesota received an automatic first down.

Three plays later, on third-and-8 from the Saints' 44-yard line, Cousins again lofted a deep pass for Thielen. As the receiver jockeyed for position with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, he reached high and grabbed Lattimore's face mask while the two hand-fought down low. The pass fell incomplete as safety P.J. Williams rotated over to provide help, but Lattimore was hit with a pass interference penalty at the 3, a 41-yard chunk that put Minnesota on the doorstep of the goal line. Cornerback Paulson Adebo also was called for holding on the play, but the Vikings declined the 5-yarder in favor of the 41-yarder.

A play later, on first-and-goal from the 3, receiver Justin Jefferson ran untouched into the end zone for the touchdown that gave Minnesota a 25-22 lead (the Vikings missed the extra point attempt) and put the Vikings in position to never trail again (the Saints tied the score at 25 on a 60-yard field goal by Lutz).

Once, the Saints defense appeared to be off the field and, once, at worst it might have been hit with a 5-yard penalty as it efforted to prevent the lead-taking touchdown. But both times, a costly – or costlier – penalty stunted the effort.

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