Minneapolis — Sam Bradford set the NFL record for completion percentage for Minnesota last season, his accuracy aided by the volume of short passes under heavy pressure.
With protection from the rush, he showed Monday night he can throw the ball down the field with the best of them.
Bradford started his second year with Minnesota in style, passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns to help the Vikings beat New Orleans 29-19 and spoil Adrian Peterson’s first game with the Saints.
“When I’ve got time to sit back there and kind of evaluate things, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that our guys outside are going to win,” Bradford said.
Stefon Diggs had seven receptions for 93 yards, two for scores and all in the first half, 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 on 22 carries in the formal takeover from Peterson.
Peterson was limited to 18 yards on six carries, in a time share with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara and 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.
“We didn’t do anything different or try to out-trick them,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. “You know, line up and play, do your job.”
Coby Fleener caught the only touchdown toss, after the 2-minute warning. Will Lutz made four field goals, three under 25 yards.
“The bottom line,” Brees said, “is you’ve got to score touchdowns.”
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 and along the sideline.
“I just try to run a route, catch the pass, but Sam, you know, he’s a slinger,” Diggs said.
More Monday NFL
(At) Denver 24, L.A. Chargers 21: Shelby Harris got a hand on Younghoe Koo's 44-yard game-tying field goal try with a second left and the Broncos began the Vance Joseph era with a win over the Chargers. "It was a little too exciting," Von Miller said after presenting Joseph with the game ball in the jubilant locker room. "But a win is a win."
Koo nailed the kick moments earlier, but Joseph had called a timeout to ice the kicker.
"I had two timeouts and I wasn't going to leave with those in my pocket," Joseph said.
Derek Wolfe had bull-rushed the first field goal and told Harris, a third-year journeyman who made the team largely because of a rash of injuries along the D-line, that he'd get a chance to slice through this time because the guard would lean his way.
Sure enough, Harris got his right hand on the ball, which frittered short of the end zone as the Chargers looked on in dismay and the Broncos dog-piled Harris.
"It's too bad because Koo drilled the first one," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "And they called timeout and I think he drilled the second one, too. At least, that's what it looked like to me because it was going right down the middle. And I think if we get to OT, we would have finished it off, but we didn't get that chance."
Harris got the start only because Jared Crick and Zach Kerr were out with injuries.
"I'm going to be real with you: I have no clue what happened," Harris said of his heroics. "I felt it. I just couldn't tell you where I felt it."
Koo was also at a loss to explain what happened.
"I was just focusing on the kick," he said. "I don't know how it got blocked. It felt good off the foot. I'll just have to watch film."
The ending was reminiscent of last year's opener in Denver, when the Broncos escaped with a 21-20 win over the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 reunion when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
Denver took a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter in this opener and the Broncos were feeling pretty good. And why not? The Chargers were 1-155 in their history when trailing by 17 or more in the fourth quarter and Denver was 175-0-1 with a fourth-quarter lead of 17 or more.
Then came a nightmarish eight-minute stretch in which they had two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns, a missed field goal and a punt.
Before those fourth-quarter foibles, Trevor Siemian threw two TD passes to Bennie Fowler and ran for another score.
The Broncos held 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.
Rivers threw touchdown passes to Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin following the takeaways to make it 24-21.
Back-to-back sacks of Siemian set up a 50-yard field goal try that McManus pushed wide right, giving L.A. the ball at its 40-yard line trailing by three.
But Koo's miss loomed larger in the final seconds.
NFL appeals Elliott ruling
The NFL moved quickly Monday in hopes of reversing a federal judge’s decision that has blocked the league’s six-game suspension of star Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott over a domestic violence case in Ohio.
The league asked the judge who ruled in Elliott’s favor to stop the preliminary injunction that cleared last year’s NFL rushing leader to play while the case is in court. A notice of appeal was also filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The NFL’s latest filings came about 12 hours after Elliott rushed for 104 yards in the Cowboys’ 19-3 season-opening win over the New York Giants at home Sunday night.
“Just relieved from the fact that I finally get a fair trial,” Elliott said after the game in his first public comments since before the Cowboys reported for training camp in July. “I finally get a chance to prove my innocence.
“And I’m just happy I’m able to be with these guys for as long as it’s permitted and just not having to miss time and not being away from them.”
Elliott, 22, was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, and attorneys with the NFL Players’ Association contended in a lawsuit that Elliott didn’t get a fair hearing in an appeal that was denied.
Elliott had already been cleared to play in the season opener when U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant granted a temporary restraining order and injunction blocking the suspension Friday.
The case could play out for months.
If Mazzant denies the emergency request to put his own ruling on hold pending further hearings, the NFL could make a similar argument to the appeals court in hopes of getting a hearing within days after Mazzant decides.
Without an NFL win on an emergency request in either court, the timeline likely would clear Elliott to play his entire second season after he led the league in rushing as a rookie.
Cardinals running back David Johnson dislocated a wrist in Sunday’s loss to the Lions, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, and probably will require surgery.
Arians said Johnson is seeking a second opinion.
If the original prognosis is confirmed, the injury is the same as the one that sidelined rookie T.J. Logan in the preseason.
While he didn’t give a timetable for Johnson, Arians said Logan is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks.
... The Jaguars confirmed receiver Allen Robinson (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) will miss the rest of the season. Robinson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the season opener at Houston on Sunday.
... Bears wide receiver Kevin White suffered a broken collarbone against the Falcons and will go on injured reserve for the third straight season.
... The Eagles lost starting cornerback Ronald Darby (right ankle) for six weeks and kicker Caleb Sturgis (leg) for several weeks in Sunday’s 30-17 win at Washington.
... The Broncos agreed to a four-year deal with kicker Brandon McManus, who set an NFL record by making all 10 of his field goal attempts in the playoffs two years ago.