1. Great block, greater catch
Catches for Adam Thielen on the Vikings’ first possession of Sunday’s 29-24 playoff victory over the Saints: Zero. Touchdown-clearing blocks for Thielen on that possession: 1. “What a play call,” Thielen said. “It was something we drew up this week. There wasn’t much to it. A one-on-one block. Just get in the guy’s way.” On a 14-yard toss sweep to Jerick McKinnon, left tackle Riley Reiff cleared the outside, while Thielen sealed the inside with a block on linebacker Craig Robertson. Thielen had six catches for 74 yards. His last was a 24-yarder to set up a 53-yard field goal and a 23-21 lead with 1:34 left. The grab came after Marshon Lattimore was called for holding and pass interference on the same play. “I’ve never had a guy get called for both on the same play,” Thielen said.
2. Daring Keenum in the pocket
It was obvious, early on at least, that the Saints’ plan defensively was to keep Keenum in the pocket, drop seven and eight players into coverage and dare him to make throws. “They started bringing more rushers a few times later, but we saw a few three-man rushes there,” right guard Joe Berger said. “You have to play them right or you end up with your tackles 1-on-1 if the guards don’t look to help.” The Vikings were leading 10-0 in the second quarter when the Saints rushed only three on third-and-8 from the Saints’ 15. With a ridiculous amount of time — 10.13 seconds, according to NFL Network — Keenum found Stefon Diggs for an 11-yard gain. The play led to a touchdown and overcame a holding penalty on Mike Remmers that nullified a 13-yard touchdown run.
3. Griffen one-ups Jordan
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen told me last week that he was none too happy about finishing third among edge rushers in the Associated Press’ All-Pro voting. “I thought I was going to win [first team],” he said before saying he didn’t want to discuss it any further. As one of the 50 voters, I had Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Griffen on my ballot. Campbell had 34 votes, while Jordan got 25 votes to grab the other first-team spot. Griffen finished third with 17 votes and was second-team All-Pro. Griffen and Jordan both had a career-high 13 sacks. Jordan also had 11 pass deflections, an incredible amount for a defensive lineman. Griffen had only one pass deflection during the season. Sunday, he not only topped Jordan in sacks (1-0), but he also had a pass deflection that became an Anthony Barr interception. Jordan didn’t have a pass deflection.
4. Plenty of penalty yards
The Saints had six penalties for 92 yards. At the half. The Vikings kicked a 20-yard field goal thanks to back-to-back pass interference penalties for 54 yards on cornerback Ken Crawley. A 1-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray came after safety Marcus Williams was called for pass interference on second-and-goal from the 4. And a 29-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Ted Ginn Jr. was nullified by an illegal shift. The Saints also were 0-for-4 for minus-10 yards on third downs at the half. The Saints had two incompletions, a 10-yard sack and a run for no gain on third-and-1.
5. Saints help with three blunders
The Saints went 2-for-9 on third downs. One of their failures was a puzzling decision to have someone other than Brees throw a deep ball on third-and-1 from their 36 down six points in the fourth quarter. “You can never be surprised at what those guys will try,” safety Harrison Smith said. “… To run a wide receiver screen throwback trick play on third-and-1. That’s pretty gutsy, I think.” But receiver Willie Snead badly underthrew an open Alvin Kamara and the Saints had to punt. In the five snaps before that play, Payton made a pair of ill-advised challenges, losing both to cost him two timeouts.