The Vikings offense got rolling for 33 points and 364 yards, but tight end Irv Smith Jr. and receiver Justin Jefferson weren't dancing as much as the numbers would suggest during their homecoming to New Orleans in Friday's 52-33 loss to the Saints.
Smith and Jefferson had six catches apiece, with Smith grabbing two wide-open touchdowns. Jefferson also set up Mike Boone's touchdown run with a 25-yard catch and run, showing the offense's potency against the Saints' third-ranked defense. But it was for naught as the Vikings defense failed to force a single New Orleans punt.
"Offensively, we played well, moved the ball well," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Did a nice job in protection, for the most part, until it got to where we were throwing on every down and they got some zero blitzes in there."
Jefferson and Smith — both from nearby high schools — planned to have friends and family among the 3,000 fans allowed to attend Christmas Day in the Superdome, but the Vikings' second-year tight end's day didn't go as planned. He finished with six grabs for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson's six catches went for 85 yards.
"I was just trying to stay positive and go out there and make as many plays as I can," Smith said. "There were a few plays I wish I would have made, but I'm going to go back and work on some things."
Technical difficulties added to the frustration, leading to wasted time during a hurry-up drive that stalled before halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was left without a play call at the line of scrimmage while the clock ticked and a headset malfunctioned.
"I believe that was the only time, and it was frustrating," Cousins said. "We'll talk about it and try to be better in the future."
Hand stands out
The Vikings were down three linebackers — Eric Kendricks (calf), Todd Davis (ribs) and Troy Dye (concussion) — because of injuries, so Zimmer's young defensive backs played even more. Rookie Harrison Hand, the fifth-round pick out of Temple, made a strong impression, including when he made his first NFL interception as the fourth cornerback in a group of six defensive backs.
Hand, making his fifth appearance on defense this season, also had another pass deflection and a stop in punt coverage, corralling Saints returner Austin Carr for a 1-yard gain in the third quarter.
Bailey misses another
Kicker Dan Bailey hooked an extra-point attempt wide left during the third quarter, ending his rebound at seven consecutive conversions. The 32-year-old former Pro Bowler was evaluated for a back injury in the first quarter but returned and was 3-for-4 on extra points in New Orleans. He didn't attempt a field goal.
Since making 36 of 39 kicks to start the season, Bailey has made only 11 of his past 19 attempts.
Bargas makes NFL debut
Another undrafted rookie, fullback Jake Bargas, made his NFL debut for the Vikings, replacing C.J. Ham, inactive because of a lingering quadriceps injury. Bargas took Ham's spot as the lead blocker for running back Dalvin Cook during the opening possession but didn't play much with Cook being limited to 15 carries.
Bargas, elevated from the practice squad for Friday's game, is a converted tight end out of North Carolina.
Saints also thinned
The Saints also had a rash of injuries, ruling out five starters — defensive end Trey Hendrickson, guard Andrus Peat, guard Nick Easton, safety Marcus Williams and defensive tackle Malcom Brown — while quarterback Drew Brees played a month removed from 11 broken ribs and receiver Michael Thomas remained on injured reserve.
New Orleans also lost linebacker Kwon Alexander to an Achilles' tendon injury in the third quarter.
The Star Tribune reporter did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.