(Sports Network) – Drew Brees threw for 237 yards and a score and Pierre Thomas ran for the decisive touchdown in the third quarter, as the Saints opened their title defense and the 2010 season with a 14-9 win over the Vikings.
New Orleans captured its first championship seven months ago with a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, and is looking to become the first repeat champion since New England in 2003 and 2004.
The Saints (1-0) took one step toward that end with a victory Thursday in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game, which New Orleans won by a 31- 28 score in overtime.
“I think obviously, preparing for this game was extremely exciting,” Brees said. “You’re going to hear so much of the talk about last year’s game — a lot of the same personnel, same coaching staff. Our defense took it personal. We gave up a lot of yards, but we got some turnovers. Coming into this game, we knew we would have to play better. Obviously, the defense played very, very well.”
In addition to the Saints’ good defensive showing, Brees was efficient, completing 27-of-36 passes and spreading the ball around — six Saints had at least three receptions. Thomas finished with 71 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Brett Favre was once again under center for the Vikings (0-1), making the 286th consecutive start of his storied career. His playing status was in question during the offseason, and an ankle surgery helped to delay his decision. However, he ultimately returned in mid-August, and Thursday passed for 171 yards and a touchdown on 15-of-27 completions, with one interception.
“I think the timing was a little bit off,” Favre said. “I’ll give credit to the Saints like I did last year; they are a good football team. They create confusion in their defense. I thought, for the most part, we handled that well. We didn’t have the points that we had last year, and neither did they.”
Adrian Peterson ran for 87 yards on 19 carries, while Visanthe Shiancoe caught four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans’ Super Bowl banner was revealed at the Superdome shortly before the game started, and the Saints showed flashes of what got them the title during the contest’s opening drive.
On the first play from scrimmage, Brees connected with Marques Colston for a 28-yard gain deep over the middle. Brees then threw for a 12-yard gain to Lance Moore to get the ball deeper into Vikings territory.
Three plays later, the Saints had a 3rd-and-2 at the Minnesota 29, and Brees found Devery Henderson deep on the right side of the field. Henderson made the catch and fell over the goal line as New Orleans took a 7-0 lead just more than two minutes into the game.
But neither team could sustain that kind of offensive success Thursday. New Orleans had four more full drives the rest of the half and punted three times. Garrett Hartley also missed a 46-yard field goal with under two minutes left in the second quarter.
The Vikings, meanwhile, punted on their first two possessions before getting on the scoreboard with 5:28 left in the half. Minnesota started at its own 11- yard line and needed 16 plays and about 9 1/2 minutes to go 66 yards. That got the ball deep enough for Ryan Longwell to send a 41-yard field goal through the uprights.
Minnesota got the ball back after the Saints punted, but the drive ended when Favre was intercepted. Under pressure, he hurried a short pass to Shiancoe over the middle, where Jonathan Vilma snagged it to set New Orleans up at the Vikings’ 29.
The play was somewhat reminiscent of last season’s NFC title game, when Favre threw a key interception late and the Saints pulled out the victory in overtime.
But Thursday, the Saints couldn’t find similar success, as Hartley missed his kick to give the ball back to Minnesota. The Vikings capitalized thanks to Favre’s arm.
With under a minute left, he found Shiancoe past the Saints’ secondary for a 33-yard gain to the New Orleans 20. He went to Shiancoe again on the next play, sending a bullet to the end zone, and the tight end reeled in the catch with 34 seconds left. However, the missed extra point kept Minnesota’s lead at 9-7 going into the break.
But the Saints grabbed the lead back on their first drive of the second half. The 11-play, 74-yard march ended on two Thomas runs, the second a one-yard plunge across the goal line with 6:13 remaining.
It gave New Orleans a 14-9 edge, and the Saints’ defense continued to hold the Vikings in check, despite missing a key player in Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper. Minnesota punted on all five of its second-half drives.
Hartley missed another field goal, this one from 32 yards out, with a little more than nine minutes left in the game. Minnesota got to the New Orleans 44 on the ensuing drive, but was once again forced to punt, and the Saints ran the clock out from there.
The Saints, the league’s best offense last season, had 308 total yards Thursday. The Vikings totaled 253…Sharper is expected to miss at least the first six games because of microfracture knee surgery…Minnesota was playing without No. 1 wideout Sidney Rice (hip surgery).