With a tooth-and-nail fight ahead of the New Orleans Saints for the No. 2 seed, every remaining game on their schedule takes on added importance, even this weekâ€™s matchup with the lowly 2-10 Minnesota Vikings.
This fact apparently did not escape quarterback Drew Brees, who played a nearly perfect game for just over three quarters to blow away the Vikings 42-20 in Minnesota Sunday afternoon.
Brees completed 32 passes on 40 attempts for 412 yards and five touchdowns before exiting the game early in the fourth quarter. He notched a 149.2 passer rating, just short of a perfect 158.3, and completed a pass to nine different receivers.
His counterpart, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, completed 13 passes on 28 attempts for 113 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked four times. Ponder threw one interception on the last play of the game.
Though the Saints turned the ball over twice, they outgained the Vikings 573 yards to 200. The Saints rushed for 161 yards and held all-world halfback Adrian Peterson to 60 yards on 10 carries.
Wide receiver Marques Colston led all receivers with eight receptions for 91 yards. Lance Moore also had 91 yards on five receptions, including two touchdown receptions. Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Darren Sproles eclipsed 200 yards in all-purpose yards, burnishing his position as the NFLâ€™s leader in all-purpose yards.
A fumble by Graham on the gameâ€™s opening drive gave Minnesota prime field position, but they were only able to parlay it into a 44-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell.
It took the Saints a few drives to answer, but Brees connected with Moore from five yards out to give the Saints their first score of the game. The play capped a 10 play, 84 yard drive for the Saints.
New Orleans had an opportunity to extend their lead, but center Brian De La Puente snapped the ball prematurely, forcing Brees to make a touchdown saving tackle on Everson Griffen. Another Longwell field goal from 49 yards narrowed the Saints lead to one.
But Brees engineered an 80-yard drive assisted by a pass interference penalty that put the Saints on the Vikings one yard line. From there, Brees threw a fade to Graham in the endzone for his second touchdown pass of the day.
A failed onside kick by the Saints gave the Vikings good field position and Peterson obliged, carving up the Saints defense for 51 yards on three runs, including a 39-yard run. Ponder then shoveled a pass to Toby Gerhardt near the line of scrimmage, and Gerhardt took it the rest of the way for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Saints had one last opportunity to score before the half and did not disappoint. Brees drove the Saints down into the Minnesota redzone, where they faced a crucial third down. Brees dropped back, scanned the field and found Sproles streaking toward the middle of the field for a touchdown.
New Orleans opened the second half with a stop and a good punt return by Sproles, giving Brees prime field position to extend the Saints lead. A long screen pass to Sproles set up a two yard touchdown pass to tight end John Gilmore.
Another defensive stop led to another good Sproles return, but 47 of the driveâ€™s 53 yards came on a third down 47-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Moore.
The Saints continued to pile on with their next drive without the assistance of a Sproles return, as they started at their own 12. Brees went over 400 yards passing on the drive, but Thomas finished the drive, banging it in from less than a yard out to put the Saints up 42-13. The drive was also Breesâ€™ last, as he was replaced by Chase Daniel thereafter.
The Vikings did manage a score in garbage time, as Ponder found Gerhardt for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
The win was the Saints sixth straight and improved their record to 11-3, ensuring their third straight 11-win season. Brees extended his streak of regular season games with a touchdown pass to 41, creeping ever closer to the all-time mark of 47 held by Johnny Unitas. He also eclipsed his single-season high for passing touchdowns by collecting his 37th, which is also a Saints single-season record.
New Orleans has an opportunity to clinch their division next weekend in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the rival Atlanta Falcons (9-5). Pending the results of a Monday night game between the San Francisco 49ers (10-3) and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Saints may go into that game with the inside track to the No.2 seed and a bye in the first week of the NFC playoffs.
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