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Saints pick up where they left off in 14-9 victory over Vikings

The Super Bowl champions open their season with a surprisingly low-scoring effort against Brett Favre and Minnesota in a rematch of the epic NFC title game.

September 09, 2010|By Sam Farmer

Reporting from New Orleans — The New Orleans Saints picked up Thursday where they left off eight months ago. And so did Brett Favre.

In a rematch of last season's NFC championship game, the Saints launched their quest for a "Two Dat" title with a 14-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Favre, meanwhile, walked off the Superdome turf disappointed, unable to get in rhythm with his receivers and looking like a shell of the quarterback who was so phenomenal last season.

"You can attribute it to whatever — people call it rusty," said Favre, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. "It falls back on me. Those guys run the routes, I have to make the throws. I didn't make enough of them."

It doesn't help, of course, that Favre is approaching 41, coming off ankle surgery, and without his top receiver from last season, Sidney Rice, who is out with a hip injury.

"I don't move around like I used to," Favre said, "but I feel like I did it OK."

Unlike the championship game, when his Super Bowl dream ended with his interception at the end of regulation (followed by a Saints field goal in overtime), Favre spent a lot of this game watching from the sideline as New Orleans controlled the clock with its running game.

The Saints used a stifling defense to limit the Vikings to 12 first downs — nine of which came in the second quarter. That was a far cry from the championship game, when Minnesota dominated the statistics but had five turnovers.

"Last year, we heard a lot about how they 'lost' the game," Saints defensive end Will Smith said. "We had to come out and make a statement that we won the game last year, and we won the game today."

Some people might say the Saints got lucky against the Vikings last season. Favre isn't one of those people.

"They beat us fair and square last year," he said. "They did the same thing tonight. I'm sure everyone who watched this ballgame would say that it wasn't the fireworks they thought it was going to be for either team.

"For us, it's obvious we can get a lot better."

That said, it wasn't a typical win for the Saints, who scored 510 points last season, the ninth-highest total in league history.

"We aren't used to 14-9 victories, but we're used to winning," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who directed scoring drives on his team's first possessions of the game and third quarter, but otherwise did a lot of handing off.

In winning, the Saints kept unbroken the string of defending Super Bowl champions emerging victorious in the traditional Thursday night opener. That streak has reached seven.

New Orleans also won its opener for the third consecutive season, a franchise record. The team is 4-1 in openers under Coach Sean Payton.

"We're at a spot right now where our players expect to win," Payton said.

But the game was far from perfect for the home team. Notably, kicker Garrett Hartley was wide left on field goal attempts of 46 and 32 yards — both of them coming on the same goalposts Hartley split to send the Saints to the Super Bowl last season.

"Both of them were completely on me," Hartley said of the misses. "The snap and the hold were great. Things like that are inexcusable at this level."

Just before kickoff, there was an interesting show of unity from the players on both teams. Together, they stepped onto the field and pointed to the sky — a message to NFL owners regarding the ongoing labor dispute.

"You'll see that a lot," Brees said. "That was a symbol of solidarity amongst all players in the NFL. We are one group, one team, one voice.

"All we're hearing from ownership is they want to lock us out. Basically not allow us to play, and not allow the fans to see us play next year. … With the Minnesota Vikings, five minutes before we were on the field trying to bash each other's heads in, we're all together with one team and one voice."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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