NEW ORLEANS — Kirk Cousins was close to perfect to start the preseason last year. On Friday night, Aug. 9, he was perfect.
At least according to the NFL’s passer rating.
In a 34-25 win over New Orleans at the Superdome, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback completed 4 of 4 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown for a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
In last year’s preseason opener at Denver, Cousins completed 4 of 4 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 150.0.
And once again the Vikings won an exhibition opener. Head coach Mike Zimmer is now 6-0 in such games since taking over in 2014.
It initially looked Friday as if Cousins had hit Adam Thielen for a 35-yard touchdown pass after the receiver made a diving catch. However, a replay showed Thielen was down just shy of the goal line, and Cousins connected on the next play with rookie running back Alexander Mattison on a 1-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
For the Saints, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also impressive, and he played a lot longer. With starter Drew Brees held out, the former Vikings quarterback went the distance in the first half, and completed 14 of 19 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Bridgewater, who played for the Vikings from 2013-17, suffered a severe knee injury in August 2016. He said on Wednesday he is fully recovered, and it certainly looked that way against his former teammates.
Cousins had expressed hope earlier in the week that the Vikings would score a touchdown on his only possession, and they delivered. Cousins also helped out with his legs, running for 10 yards on third-and-9 at the Minnesota 25 for the initial first down of the game.
Cousins turned over the reins to Sean Mannion for the remainder of the first half, and he also looked good. Mannion, who is in good position to be the backup quarterback, completed 7 of 13 passes for 102 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Olabisi Johnson.
The ball was thrown slightly behind Johnson, but he reached back and made a nifty catch at the left pylon for a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
With the Vikings holding out starting running back Dalvin Cook, Mattison got the bulk of the early running load. He rushed nine times for 30 yards.
Mattison eventually gave way to Ameer Abdullah. He had four first-half carries for 63 yards, including a 42-yard scamper, but lost a fumble. Mike Boone got most of the work in the second half, carrying four times for 70 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run.
In addition to Abdullah’s run and Thielen’s catch, the Vikings had one other play of more than 30 yards. Tight end Tyler Conklin, who has had an impressive training camp, had a 34-yard reception in the second quarter from Mannion.
In the second half, Kyle Sloter took over at quarterback. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 62 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to undrafted rookie fullback Khari Blasingame for a 27-15 lead late in the third quarter. Undrafted rookie quarterback Jake Browning played the last half of the fourth quarter.
On defense, the first- and second-team units were up and down going against Bridgewater. Bridgewater threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Arnold with 44 seconds left in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-12. The Saints went for two, but Bridgewater threw an incompletion.
Bridgewater was sacked twice by Minnesota defensive tackles, Jalyn Holmes getting one and Hercules Mata’afa the other. Mata’afa generally was solid but did have a roughing-the-passer penalty on Bridgewater.
Taysom Hill took over at quarterback for the Saints in the second half and soon ran into some bad luck. A pass intended for Arnold bounced off his hands and was picked off by Vikings undrafted rookie cornerback Nate Meadors and returned 30 yards for a touchdown and a 21-12 lead early in the third quarter.
Hill did bounce back to throw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey with 8:44 left in the game to cut the deficit to 27-25. But Boone extended the lead to 34-25 with 7:09 left with his long run down the left sideline.