5 quick takeaways from Saints-Vikings: Close doesn't count, but it does hurt

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The Saints flew to London in desperate need of a win, instead what they got was another entry in the painful loss hall of fame.

Wil Lutz's 61-yard attempt to tie the game hit the upright, then the crossbar, then went the wrong direction. The Saints fell to the Vikings 28-25, and are now 1-3 on the season.

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With all that in mind, here are my quick takeaways after another stunning, painful loss to Minnesota.

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THE OFFENSE LOOKED ... SIMILAR

That's obviously an oversimplification of the shift from the Jameis Winston offense to the Andy Dalton offense, but at the end of the day nothing really changed: The first half featured a lot of uninspired, tough-to-watch, mistake-riddled football.

The deep shots we've seen so often with Jameis weren't really there, but the heavy workload for Chris Olave certainly was. The rookie continued his hot start with a team-high 4 catches for 67 yards and his first career touchdown.

What you can say for Dalton is he was consistent. There were fewer three-and-outs. There were more extended drives. The offense seemed to be getting better as the game went on, and there was a clutch go-ahead drive in the 4th quarter. It even included a well-executed screen to Adam Trautman. Dalton finished 20-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown.

Dalton wasn't done any favors. There was no Alvin Kamara. There was no Michael Thomas. He was playing without starting guard Andrus Peat. Mark Ingram left the game early in the second half. The fact that he was able to calmly move the ball at any point is a testament to why you brought him in to begin with.

But there was an idea the shift to Dalton might result in a marked change for a sluggish offense. He did lead a scoring drive in the second quarter, something that'd been very elusive, but otherwise it was a lot of the same. There were nice moments. There were bad moments.

In the end, Dalton did his job. He did it as well as you could hope. His job is still to be the backup quarterback.

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THERE'S JUST NO EXCUSE

I intentionally didn't mention Dalton's fumble above, because it had to be mentioned at length here: There's absolutely no excuse for the errors. Not when they're coming week after week after week after week.

When Dalton faced pressure deep in his own territory, he didn't do what you'd expect a savvy veteran to do and live to play another down. He tried to spin in traffic with one hand on the ball. It was stripped and led to three Vikings points before the half.

When All-Pro return man Deonte Harris collected a punt after yet another defensive stand, he wouldn't just accept a 2-yard return. He tried to work back for a few extra yards, and the ball was stripped. Again, no excuse.

There were plenty of penalties to point to on a day when flags flew 10 times for a total of 102 yards. But the one that makes the point best came late in the third quarter. The Saints offense had finally gotten its act together and fought its way downfield, with the practice squad-elevated Latavius Murray plowing into the end zone on third down. Just kick it out of the end zone or make a tackle in coverage. Nope. A 15-yard penalty means the drive starts out past the 40. The defense did what it does as well as anyone and locked down to "force" a punt. If it was deep in Vikings territory, there's no fake on the table. Instead the ball was in a much safer position, and the Vikings called and executed a fake. Another drive was extended after it felt over.

The defense, in particular, struggled late in the game with chances to close it out. Penalties played a major factor there, too, including a 39-yard pass interference call against Marshon Lattimore that set up a Minnesota touchdown.

That's the story of this Saints season. It just can't happen.

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GIVE LATAVIUS A ROSTER SPOT

Nothing complicated here. Do it. Tony Jones Jr. has been a healthy scratch the last two weeks. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are banged up. Latavius Murray knows the offense as well as anyone, he's still got burst, he's a short-yardage weapon.

He's a player that, frankly, the Saints should've never sent out of the building. He finished the game with a team-high 57 yards on 11 carries, along with that touchdown.

When the Saints got the ball back early in the 4th quarter and needing a statement drive, it was Murray who ripped off a pair of long runs and a 9-yard catch that could've been much bigger if not for a shoestring tackle by Patrick Peterson. If he's not on the Saints' 53 next week, someone messed up the paperwork. He deserves it. Get it done.

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ATTACKING WERNER

The Vikings were clearly targeting Pete Werner in coverage. Whether it was Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook or even CJ Ham, when the Saints LB was stuck in coverage, they went at him. Not sure if they saw something on film they felt they could exploit, but that'll be something to watch if other teams try to duplicate it.

In Werner's defense, he bounced back from a tough start in coverage and help up the rest of the way. The Vikings seemed to go away from the approach later in the game. That'll be something to watch closely on film.

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GRITTY ... WITH A GRIDDY

The Saints were desperate, they played that way. The Saints trailed 7-0. They trailed 16-7. They fought back.

The team showed grit, even when they went down 25-22 with Justin Jefferson's endaround score and signature Griddy.

The Saints went down and smashed a 60-yard Wil Lutz field goal to tie the score. The Vikings drove for their own. Then Lutz got a chance from 61 yards ... and how do you even describe this?

It didn't matter how injured this roster was. It didn't matter who was starting at quarterback. The only thing that mattered was the Saints found a way to fly back stateside with a 2-2 record and a fresh outlook on the 2022 season.

It didn't happen and a 1-3 start feels bleak. This season could start spiraling, and avoiding that will be Dennis Allen's next challenge as head coach. The Saints needed another inch to fly home as a .500 football team. The bad news is that every inch counts.

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LAGNIAPPE

Wil Lutz's 60-yard field goal is tied for the second-longest in Saints history (Morten Andersen). Tom Dempsey has the record (63). ... A missed PAT by Vikings kicker Greg Joseph, along with a 2-point conversion by Jarvis Landry kept the Saints alive in this one. Greg Joseph hit all five of his FG attempts, including the go-ahead kick with 25 seconds to play. ... Justin Jefferson and Marshon Lattimore don't match up annually, but man -- that's appointment viewing. Jefferson won a few. Lattimore won a few. Both players are stars. It was Jefferson that got the last laugh, though, with a huge reception to set up the go-ahead kick in the final minute. ... The Vikings started well, but they had a rough showing in the composure department. Twice they had drops in the red zone that could've resulted in points. The first was a ball to the flat to Johnny Mundt on third down. The second was a Kirk Cousins pass that was left behind Jefferson who had beaten Lattimore in the end zone. The Vikings had to settle for four field goals in the red zone. It's what allowed the Saints to stay in the game. ... Demario Davis got away with a trip of Dalvin Cook. It was a good thing, too. He was shot out of a cannon and might've even scored. The Saints forced a punt a few players later. ... The whole cast of Ted Lasso was in the building. Adam Thielen was even wearing Ted Lasso cleats (have to imagine that draws a suspension).

Featured Image Photo Credit: USAT Images