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Vikings beat Saints despite mistakes. How good can they be without them?

By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

The good. The bad. The ugly.

Minnesota and New Orleans’ showdown at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England, presented all three — with an emphasis on the ugly for Minnesota.

But I suppose vikings weren’t traditionally known for their looks.

Put bluntly, it was an ugly 28-25 win because of all the missed opportunities for the Minnesota offense, despite the best efforts of both the defense and special teams.

The defense gave quarterback Kirk Cousins and the offense a bonus possession right before halftime thanks to a strip-sack by Dalvin Tomlinson that was recovered by Harrison Smith at the Minnesota 44. But they ended up settling for a field goal.

Special teams then did the same, recovering a fumbled punt return by the Saints in the third quarter. This time, the Minnesota offense took over at the New Orleans 44. But they ended up settling for a field goal.

Then, clinging to a 19-14 lead in the third quarter, punter Ryan Wright lobbed a pass to rookie wide receiver Jalen Nailor, his first NFL catch, on a fake punt to extend the drive and — you guessed it — the Vikings ended up settling for a field goal.

It was missed opportunity after missed opportunity.

On the plus side, it was a career day for kicker Greg Joseph, who made a career-high five field goals before the day was done. But on the other, it let the Saints right back in the game. The Vikings were just two-of-five on red-zone opportunities. Had it not been for a last-second double-doinked 61-yard field goal by New Orleans kicker Wil Lutz, who previously hit a 60-yard kick in the game, the game would have ended up in overtime.

“Back-to-back weeks showing different types of resiliency, to rely on one another,” Head Coach Kevin O’Connell said after the game. “Obviously, there’s a lot we can do better. There’s a lot more consistent play, capitalizing on some more opportunities offensively and continuing to grow and progress and play as good as we can on the defensive side. But special teams, once again, huge for us. Greg Joseph with the five made, five for five field goals. Ryan Wright, two punts inside the 20 and the fake punt for his first career completion. Just really, really solid performance by our teams again.”

Minnesota can’t continue to win in spite of themselves, sputtering offensively and failing to make the most of the opportunities that come their way. But allow me to put on the rose-colored glasses and examine what it means that they did emerge victorious on Sunday.

If the Vikings can stumble, sputter and scrape together a win while operating in a limited capacity, imagine what they can do at full-throttle.

“Games like this show character, show grit,” said running back Dalvin Cook after the game. “It just reveals the coaching and everything that’s behind the scenes of how we work and how we do things.”

Justin Jefferson caught 10 of 13 targets for 147 yards and had a rushing touchdown. He would have added a receiving touchdown had Cousins seen him skimming the back of the end zone uncovered on third-and-goal in the third quarter. That drive yielded one of those aforementioned field goals, but those extra four points alone would have all but put the game away.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 02: Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings acknowledges the fans after their sides victory during the NFL match between Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 02, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Minnesota had just 81 yards on the ground and just three rushing first downs in the game. Imagine a more balanced attack like we’ve seen Minnesota capable of, where Cousins can feed off play action and keep an opponent’s pass rush (New Orleans sacked him three times on Sunday) at bay?

That iteration of this Minnesota team, where Cousins sees Jefferson in the end zone, or the offense shows a little more balance while the other two phases of the ball remain constant, could be downright scary.

And maybe, just maybe, it could even be beautiful.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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