By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson spent more time watching from the sideline in his return to Minnesota than romping around the field, an introductory performance for New Orleans that became an afterthought once the Saints fell behind.
With Dalvin Cook patiently waiting for space and bursting around the edge, the Vikings formally turned the page in the backfield with promising results.
Sam Bradford started his second year with Minnesota in style, passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-19 victory on Monday night by the Vikings that spoiled Peterson’s first game with the Saints.
“I really didn’t know what to expect coming in,” said Peterson, who spent 10 seasons with the Vikings while winning a league MVP award and becoming their all-time leading rusher by nearly 5,000 yards. “We talked about running the ball a little more and for whatever reason got away from it. That’s how the game played out.”
Booed by the crowd upon his first couple of mentions by the public address announcer, Peterson was limited to six carries and 18 yards in equal time with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The other members of the committee are more valuable in the passing game, though, so Peterson was hardly used after halftime. He was seen on camera at one point yelling at coach Sean Payton, a confrontation Peterson played down afterward.
“Listen, I’d tell you if we were in a heated exchange,” Payton said, “so why don’t you ask him?”
Peterson pinned his frustration on play calling that strayed from running inside, not at Payton for minimizing his use.
“There is no conflict. Let’s not try to spin it like there is,” Peterson said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Payton and his offense. He’s a great mind. We’re going to learn from this.”
Here some other key angles that emerged from the game:
The Vikings drafted Cook in the second round to fit their new zone-blocking scheme with a diverse skill set that could serve them well on passing downs, a snapshot of the evolution of the ideal NFL running back that Peterson was when he entered the league 10 years ago with his unique blend of power and speed. Though Cook bobbled a couple of the five passes thrown his way, he turned 25 touches into 137 total yards.
The first Vikings rookie to start at running back since Michael Bennett in 2001, Cook carried the ball 22 times for 127 yards. He had 14 attempts for 105 yards in the second half to help the Vikings salt away the clock. His 33-yard scamper around right end on the first play of the fourth quarter would’ve been the team’s second-longest rush last season, and his total for the game bested the 2016 individual high for the Vikings by 36 yards.
“They took a chance on me, bringing me into this organization, so it’s important for me to come out here and compete for those guys,” Cook said. “You know A.P. was phenomenal for this organization, so you can’t put nothing past him, but you know I’m here now and I’m just trying to help this team win.”
Cook spoke to Peterson afterward on the field, their first meeting.
“He just told me, ‘Keep ballin’ man,’ and I told him, ‘I’m just following the G.O.A.T. footsteps,” Cook said, using acronym slang for the “greatest of all time.”
Bradford set the NFL record for completion percentage last season, his accuracy aided by the volume of short passes under frequently heavy pressure, but with protection from the rush he showed again he can throw the ball down the field with the best of them.
Stefon Diggs had seven receptions for 93 yards, two for scores and all in the first half. Adam Thielen racked up 157 yards on nine catches. Kyle Rudolph had a touchdown reception, too. With sharp play calling by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and some fruitful checks at the line of scrimmage by Bradford, an offense that often lacked a punch last year behind a leaky offensive line was in prime form against a renovated Saints defense.
The normally low-key Bradford even let loose a little with his celebrations.
“Anytime you start the season, there’s a lot of emotions built up inside of you,” Bradford said. “I think there’s a lot of excitement to go out there and play.”
With Terron Armstead still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, rookie Ryan Ramczyk started at left tackle for the Saints. Then right tackle Zach Strief injured his left leg in the second quarter, forcing Senio Kelemete into action. Coincidentally or not, Drew Brees never found a rhythm. He finished with 291 yards and one touchdown on 27-for-37 passing padded by the late push to catch up.
Coby Fleener caught the only touchdown toss, after the 2-minute warning. Will Lutz made four field goals, three under 25 yards after stalled drives inside the 10.
“The bottom line,” Brees said, “is you’ve got to score touchdowns.”
The Saints had three unnecessary roughness calls in the first half. Two of the personal fouls extended a drive that ended with one of three field goals by Kai Forbath. The other 15-yarder was on safety Kenny Vaccaro for head-hunting Diggs during an acrobatic catch in the closing seconds of the first half. Diggs came right back with another highlight-reel grab to give the Vikings a 16-6 lead at the break after a 10-play, 95-yard drive.
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