Sam Bradford started his second season with Minnesota in style, passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns to help the Vikings beat New Orleans
Sam Bradford started his second season with Minnesota in style, passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns to help the Vikings beat New Orleans 29-19 on Monday night and spoil Adrian Petersons first game with the Saints.
Stefon Diggs had seven receptions for 93 yards, two for scores, and Adam Thielen racked up 157 yards on nine catches as Bradford carved up a Saints defense that looked again like one of the worst in the league despite a major renovation. Rookie Dalvin Cook rushed for 127 yards in the formal takeover from Peterson.
Peterson was an afterthought once the Saints fell behind. Drew Brees was quiet, too, with 291 yards on 27-for-37 passing padded by the late push to catch up. Coby Fleener caught the only touchdown toss, after the two-minute warning. Will Lutz made four field goals, three under 25 yards.
Brees and Bradford are both in the final year of their contracts, with the same agent, Tom Condon, who is sure to cash in on both clients. Brees has by far the better resume, nine seasons further into his career, but Bradford stole the show on this prime-time stage.
Behind mostly clean pockets created by a remade offensive line, Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes without a turnover. With three rookies and three free agents in the starting lineup, the Saints tried hard to better a defense that has held Brees and company back since the Super Bowl title eight years ago. The first performance left a lot to be desired, with Diggs and Thielen consistently finding favorable matchups underneath.
There were three unnecessary roughness calls in the first half by the Saints. Two of the personal fouls aided a drive that ended with one of three field goals by Kai Forbath, who missed one extra point. The other 15-yarder was on safety Kenny Vaccaro for head-hunting Diggs during an acrobatic catch in the closing seconds of the first half. Diggs came right back with another highlight-reel grab to give the Vikings a 16-6 lead at the break.
Cameron Jordan and AJ Klein each had their hands on a tipped pass in the end zone that fluttered off Cooks hands, missing a critical opportunity to thwart that drive and keep the deficit at four points.
In Denver, Shelby Harris got a hand on Younghoe Koos 44-yard field goal attempt with a second left, helping the Broncos begin the Vance Joseph era with a 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night. Moments earlier, Koo had nailed the kick, but Joseph called a timeout to ice the kicker. On the re-do, Harris who made the team because of a rash of injuries along the D-line sliced through and got his right hand on the kick.
It was reminiscent of last years opener, when the Broncos escaped with a 21-20 win over the Carolina Panthers when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with four seconds left.
Denver took a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter but had two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns, a missed field goal and a punt. Before those fourth-quarter errors, Trevor Siemian threw two touchdown passes to Bennie Fowler and ran for another score.
The Broncos held Philip Rivers to 115 yards passing through three quarters but let him engineer a comeback when Siemian threw an interception and Jamaal Charles fumbled on plays that were upheld despite video evidence that had the crowd of 76,324 convinced they should have been overturned.
The safety Adrian Phillips intercepted a pass that went off cornerback Desmond Kings leg as King was tackling Fowler while the ball was still in the air. A review upheld the turnover and Los Angeles pulled to 24-14 on Keenan Allens 5-yard TD catch with eight minutes left.
Less than a minute later, Jamaal Charles fumbled although replays showed his left elbow was down before the ball was ripped away by Korey Toomer. Cornerback Casey Hayward recovered. One play later, Rivers hit Travis Benjamin for a 38-yard touchdown that made it 24-21 and safety Darian Stewart hobbled off with a strained groin.
Back-to-back sacks of Siemian set up a 50-yard field goal try that McManus pushed wide right. But Koos miss loomed larger in the final seconds. The Broncos led 14-7 at halftime after Siemian threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Fowler and scored on a one-yard keeper .
Los Angeles only touchdown drive was aided by a 40-yard pass interference call on cornerback Bradley Roby before Rivers hit running back Melvin Gordon for an 11-yard touchdown toss. Safety Justin Simmons hit Gordon at the two yard line, but he just somersaulted across the goal line.
Rivers stayed away from the All-Pro tandem of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., instead targeting Roby and safeties Darian Stewart and Simmons, both of whom held up well. Roby atoned for his crucial penalty with an interception in the third quarter on a pass intended for Keenan Allen. That led to Siemians 6-yard TD toss to Fowler that made it 21-7. Brandon McManus kicked a 20-yard field goal on the last play of the third quarter, capping a 78-yard drive that ate up 8 minutes, 16 seconds.
The game presented landmarks on the football field, along the sidelines and in the broadcast booth. Not since 1960 had the Chargers represented Los Angeles, where they played their inaugural season before bolting to San Diego. Beth Mowins became the first woman to call an NFL regular season game since NBCs Gayle Sierens in 1987 when she handled play-by-play on the doubleheader nightcap alongside Rex Ryan, who made his debut as an ESPN analyst. With Anthony Lynn also making his head coaching debut, this marked the first time two black head coaches worked their first NFL game against each other in the same game.