MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints paid Minnesota back for their last-second loss in the playoffs last season, using two key turnovers, including a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by P.J. Williams, to fuel a 30-20 victory over the Vikings on Sunday night.
Alvin Kamara scored twice, Will Lutz made three field goals and Sheldon Rankins had two of the four sacks by the Saints (6-1), who needed only 120 passing yards by Brees to beat the Vikings (4-3-1) this time with far less tension down the final stretch.
Stefon Diggs had 119 receiving yards and a score in his curtain call after the “Minneapolis Miracle” catch in the NFC divisional round here in January, but he stopped his drag route in a miscommunication with quarterback Kirk Cousins right before Williams picked the ball off for the pivotal third-quarter touchdown.
Adam Thielen had another record-setting performance for the Vikings with 103 yards and a score, but his red-zone fumble in the second quarter was returned 54 yards by Marshon Lattimore to set up the go-ahead touchdown for the Saints.
The Vikings had the edge on both sides of the ball during the first half. Harrison Smith handed Brees his first interception of the season after 231 attempts without one, putting the Vikings in position to stretch a 13-10 lead.
Late in the second quarter, Thielen drove forward for extra yards after a short completion and had the ball pried loose by Williams and Alex Anzalone at the 14. Lattimore scooped it up and raced the other way, before Laquon Treadwell took him down. Treadwell then slammed his helmet on the turf in frustration, drawing a devastating 15-yard penalty to give the Saints the ball at the 18 with 57 seconds remaining before halftime. Kamara soared into the end zone two plays later.
The Vikings started the second half with the ball and went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 45. With an empty backfield, Cousins had Treadwell open over the middle, but Lattimore broke up the pass to change possession and set up Lutz’s second field goal.
The first prime-time kickoff of the season at U.S. Bank Stadium created an extra-energetic atmosphere, and the pregame hype video montage with replays of the last-snap catch and run by Diggs for the winning touchdown in the playoffs against the Saints only enhanced it.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, returning from a five-game absence for mental health treatment, led the sprint out of the replica Vikings ship for introductions. Diggs was saved for last. Then the action came fast and furious.
Kamara capped the opening touchdown drive by catching a forward flip on a jet sweep play with both backup quarterbacks, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill, lined up as wide receivers. Hill had taken a turn at quarterback earlier and threw a 44-yard pass to Michael Thomas, his second highlight-reel reception during that drive.
Thielen climbed over the neck of Williams for a tricky third-down catch on the ensuing possession for the Vikings, who kept on attacking the third-year nickel cornerback. Diggs beat him with a back-shoulder grab at the goal line and again four plays later on a toe-tap touchdown at the edge of the end zone on fourth down.
Williams had a pass interference penalty on the next drive for the Vikings. That set up a short scoring run by Latavius Murray, who tossed the ball back to Cousins earlier on that possession for a 28-yard flea-flicker throw to Thielen.
Thielen tied Calvin Johnson’s all-time NFL record of eight straight 100-yard receiving games, set in 2012 with Detroit. He also matched Patrick Jeffers with a fifth consecutive game with 100-plus yards and at least one touchdown, a mark set in 1999 for Carolina.
Saints: CB Eli Apple, acquired this week in a trade with the New York Giants, made his debut at CB. He started in place of Ken Crawley, who was on the inactive list but not on the injury report this week.
Vikings: CB Xavier Rhodes (foot) was one of six starters held out with injuries, giving rookie Holton Hill his first start. LB Anthony Barr (hamstring), SS Andrew Sendejo (groin), LG Tom Compton (knee), LT Riley Reiff (foot) and RB Dalvin Cook (hamstring) were the others. … Backup RB Roc Thomas left with a hamstring injury.
Saints: Return home to host the Los Angeles Rams (8-0) next Sunday.
Vikings: Stay home to face the Detroit Lions (3-4) next Sunday.