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NEW ORLEANS – The Saints' defense was starting to look like a liability in coordinator Rob Ryan's second season.
That is, until New Orleans hosted a Minnesota team that was missing its star running back coming in — then lost its starting quarterback in first half.
Playing in the comfort of the Superdome, where New Orleans hasn't lost since 2012, the Saints kept an opponent out of the end zone for an entire game for the first time this season, yielding three field goals in a 20-9 victory over the Vikings.
"We don't want to let them down there at all, but when you do, you can't give up a touchdown," Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "You've got to force field goals, so we did a great job with that and finding a way to get a stop."
Peterson left Minnesota indefinitely during the past week to address child abuse charges, and then quarterback Matt Cassel broke his left foot after a 5-yard scramble early in the second quarter.
The Vikings (1-2) turned to rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who was supposed to be their QB of the future, not the present.
Such developments didn't hurt a Saints defense that was on the field when New Orleans (1-2) lost leads inside the final seconds of its first two games this season.
"Just getting the win itself boosts your confidence," Lofton said. "We've been 0-2 and it hasn't been all cupcakes and clowns. Now, all the work you put in pays off on Sunday."
In Week 1, New Orleans' defense was plagued by missed tackles while yielding 568 yards and 38 points in Atlanta. In Week 2, communication cross-ups and untimely penalties contributed to Cleveland piling up 334 yards and 26 points.
The Saints held Minnesota to 247 yards, with edge pass rushers Junior Galette and Cam Jordan each getting a sack.
The Vikings also gained only 59 yards on the ground, but said they'd have to figure out how to overcome the loss of Peterson and execute better close to the end zone.
"We can't look at (Peterson's absence) and make excuses," running back Matt Asiata said. "We got into the red zones a few times and just didn't capitalize. You put yourself in great position to score and we didn't do it."
Here are some things learned from the Saints' triumph over Minnesota:
BRIDGEWATER'S DEBUT: The rookie QB out of Louisville will be running Minnesota's offensive for the foreseeable future now that Cassel has fractured bones in his foot. Against New Orleans, he led two field-goal drives, going 12 of 20 for 150 yards. He also proved elusive under pressure, scrambling for 27 yards. "I missed a couple of easy throws, but overall I thought it was a good performance," Bridgewater said. "Moving forward, I think I am definitely going to be ready."
BREES' BRAVADO: Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for 293 yards and two scores, looked ready for a fight after being body-slammed on a penalized sack by Captain Munnerlyn. Brees shoved safety Robert Blanton, who had piled onto Munnerlyn's takedown, and the moment seemed to spark the Saints. The penalty resulted in a first down near midfield and Brees connected with Marques Colston for an 18-yard score a few plays later. "If you want to fire this team up, that's the guy to go after," right tackle Zach Strief said of Brees.
RUNNING ROOM: With Saints leading rusher Mark Ingram sidelined by a broken hand, New Orleans finished with its fewest yards rushing of the young season with 108. Still, the Saints got timely production from Khiry Robinson, who rushed 18 times for 69 yards. Coach Sean Payton showed a balanced approach to his play-calling, with 32 runs to 35 passes.
CLAMPING DOWN: After giving up two early touchdowns, the Vikings' defense demonstrated its ability to adjust and slow the Saints' normally prolific offense. Minnesota was within one score while keeping New Orleans off the board from late in the first quarter until early in the final quarter. And New Orleans' last TD may not have happened if Munnerlyn's late third-quarter sack hadn't been flagged for roughness.
DOME ADVANTAGE: The Saints continue to be very difficult to beat at home. They've won nine straight games in the Superdome — 18 straight under coach Sean Payton, who was suspended in 2012 when New Orleans last lost at home.
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