Minneapolis – No more proof is necessary.
The New Orleans Saints have submitted enough samples – six straight, to be exact – to have earned the right to be called an elite NFL team through Week 8, their 6-1 record proof that they've been as formidable as any squad.
A 30-20, nationally televised victory over Minnesota on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, was the latest impressive win, and another submission of evidence that the Saints (6-1) are capable of winning anywhere, and via a variety of ways.
There were many excellent performances yielded in the process. Here are, perhaps, the best.
OFFENSE: Usually, I don't do this, but there are exceptions to every rule. So this week, the entire offensive line gets the standout honor. The Saints amassed just 270 yards and 17 first downs, and possessed the football almost three minutes less than the Vikings. But the line didn't allow a sack of Drew Brees, and it played the kind of physical, gritty game that produces victories. New Orleans had more rushing attempts (29, for 106 yards) than passing attempts (23) and there's no doubt that all the leaning on Minnesota took a toll. The Saints physically imposed their will in the third quarter, and the line had everything to do with it. Left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, center Max Unger, right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk were pillars, on the road against a really, really good defensive front.
DEFENSE: I want to give this one to cornerback P.J. Williams, because his 45-yard pick-6 in the third quarter didn't just give the Saints a 27-13 cushion, but it also gave redemption to a player who'd had a tough go of it early in the game. And then, there's rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport, who had two sacks and nearly forced a fumble in his best game to date (and he keeps getting better, and better, and better). And, of course, there's cornerback Eli Apple, who had nine tackles in his first game as a Saint, just five days after he was acquired in a trade. But defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins absolutely annihilated the Vikings' interior. He had two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, three tackles and he led the way as the Saints pounded away at Minnesota's offensive line until they smashed their way to four sacks. Rankins' first multi-sack game of his career might have been his best game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: As I said earlier, I don't usually do this. But my list, my rules. So…kicker Wil Lutz and defensive back Justin Hardee are my guys. Lutz, with field goals of 52 and 42 yards (two from the latter distance) was as valuable an offensive weapon as the Saints had. He's having the type of year that results in honors. And Hardee had two special teams tackles and an assist. The pride he takes in being a special teams factor is evident, and he doesn't waste many opportunities.