The NFL waltzed back into London on its yearly sojourn with a purple and gold swagger as the Minnesota Vikings edged a nerve-shredding encounter 28-25 over the New Orleans Saints thanks to a dynamite offensive display from Justin Jefferson and the trusty boot of Greg Joseph.
The receiver’s electric pace set up the winning field goal for Joseph as the Vikings move to 3-1 and top of the NFC North, with a firm eye on the playoffs, while New Orleans sink to 1-3 and last in the NFC South as they wonder what could have been. Wil Lutz’s last-second monster 65-yard field goal attempt teased overtime but finally spelled defeat as the ball bounced off the left upright then spun across the crossbar before falling the wrong side of the posts.
The optimism for Andy Dalton v Kirk Cousins II, a sequel to 2017’s never-ending 27-27 overtime tie between Cincinnati and Washington, was admirable from the 60,639-strong crowd but, after a first-half full of mistakes from both quarterbacks, the contest slowly simmered into a thrilling shootout as the final quarter ebbed away and the lead swung back and forth.
The final twist in the tale was provided by Jefferson as he left Marshon Lattimore in his dust down the left sideline to catch a 39-yard pass from Cousins with the scores level and only 97 seconds remaining. The Saints prevented a touchdown but Joseph stepped up and sealed the victory from 47 yards. The kicker enjoyed the spotlight as he tied a bow on stifled drive after stifled drive, finishing with a crucial five field goals and 16 points for his team.
The first half burst into life as Minnesota caught New Orleans napping to set Alexander Mattison scampering home for an opening score from 15 yards with seven minutes gone. It would then fall to Tyrann Mathieu to kick the Saints into life as he anticipated a Cousins pass and intercepted with ease. Dalton capitalised on the favourable field position and made it count by levelling the score with a four-yard pass to Chris Olave as nine minutes remained in the half. Joseph would nudge the Vikings ahead as the period ticked away with the first two of his kicks.
As the second half began the action unfolded at breakneck speed. Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill notched goalline rushing touchdowns to breathe life into the Saints from smooth Dalton drives downfield and alarmingly for Minnesota they could only answer through the boot of Joseph.
New Orleans, from nowhere, had the lead at 22-19 with only nine minutes remaining. Only it would not last after some running trickery on the three-yard line. Jefferson swung around the offensive line and Cousins handed him the ball on the move to stun the Saints as he strolled into an empty endzone to put Minnesota back on top.
Lutz had a moment to celebrate before his heartbreak as he nailed a kick from 60 yards to tie the score at 25-25 but it fell to his opposite number Joseph to score the decisive kick from 47 yards. Neither team showed the razzle-dazzle of a Super Bowl contender but the International Series comes to London for a good time not the grit and grind of playoff football and long may it continue.