Defensive end Everson Griffen returned to a thunderous ovation from Vikings fans at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night. He came off the bench and played much of the 30-20 loss to the Saints in his return from a five-game absence to undergo mental health treatment.

“It does feel good, to see that people care,” Griffen said. “I really appreciate that. There’s a lot of love out there for me. My whole goal is to get back to my old form. Knock the rust off and get back to my grind.”

The ongoing process to find Griffen’s “old form” is why he didn’t start against the Saints, according to coach Mike Zimmer, instead coming off the bench in a somewhat limited role behind defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly. Griffen was flagged twice, including an early jump that gave the Saints a first down on a third-and-1 play.

“I had two penalties [Sunday], and we turned over the ball,” Griffen said. “Stuff like that can’t be done to beat a good team like that.”

Even though Griffen didn’t start, he returned to his role as an emotional leader for the Vikings. He broke down two huddles with his fellow defenders during pregame warmups, during which he also regained his spot as a team captain at the front of the team. He finished with one tackle and was able to pressure quarterback Drew Brees on a third-and-goal incompletion.

Brees proves mortal

Brees had been the NFL’s last starter to not throw an interception during the 2018 season, until safety Harrison Smith grabbed his overthrow in the second quarter. Smith’s pick, his third of the season, was Brees’ first interception since he was last in U.S. Bank Stadium. Brees threw two interceptions in the Saints’ NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Vikings in January.

The Vikings did not get anything out of the turnover. Receiver Adam Thielen fumbled in the red zone, leading to a 54-yard return by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Saints running back Alvin Kamara scored a touchdown two plays later.

Six starters sit

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was one of six starters to not play against the Saints. Rhodes missed his first game of the season because of a foot injury suffered last week against the Jets. Linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring) also saw his streak of 44 consecutive starts come to an end. Safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) missed his third game in a row.

Left tackle Riley Reiff also sat out his third consecutive week. Reiff is dealing with a foot injury that has bothered him since the Sept. 22 loss against Buffalo. Running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) and guard Tom Compton (knee) were also inactive.

Reliving the Miracle

A mashup of reactions to the Minneapolis Miracle played on the scoreboard to precede an emotional prime-time kickoff against the Saints. Receiver Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown for a walkoff playoff victory last January was replayed on the big screens three times. Diggs was also greeted with a roar as the Vikings’ marquee final announcement out of the tunnel during pregame festivities.

A smattering of fans created signs taunting Saints safety Marcus Williams, including one that read, “Hey Williams, I had a funny Saints joke, but I lost it in the last second.”

Thomas injured

Vikings rookie running back Roc Thomas suffered an injured hamstring in the second quarter and did not return to the game. He had one carry for a loss of 1 yard.

The Vikings had an efficient rushing attack against the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, but Latavius Murray couldn’t accumulate much beyond 13 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown as the offense played from behind for the entire second half.