Once a beacon of scoring efficiency, the New Orleans Saints offense is now a scattershot of explosiveness and ugliness in its first season in 17 years without both Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
In the first three quarters of their first three games, the Saints have scored a league-low 13 points and have been shut out in the second quarter. But in the fourth quarter of those games, they've scored a league-high 48 points.
"Jameis Winston, that's kind of his thing; you don't know when he's going to be on and when he's going to be off," said Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who spent this week preparing for both Winston, suffering from back and ankle injuries, and former longtime NFL starter Andy Dalton heading into Sunday's game in London. Dalton will start after the Saints confirmed Saturday that Winston is out.
"That's kind of been the story [with the Saints]. [Winston] gets on, they fall behind a little bit and that allows him to loosen up little bit and he gets rolling. Every game is different when it gets into the second half. This team is going to play it to the end."
The Vikings defense has its own statistical oddity. It's 31st in yards allowed (413.3) but 10th in points allowed (18.3).
The Purple defense also hasn't allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season. The only other team pitching a fourth-quarter shutout is Indianapolis, which is 1-2 after holding off the explosive Chiefs at home last week.
The Saints' biggest problem this year is the one that caused Tampa Bay to say good-bye to Winston and hello to Tom Brady in 2020: turnovers. Winston, who led the league with 30 interceptions in 2019, has a league-high five this year as the Saints rank last in turnover differential (minus-6). Dalton could be more of the same: he threw nine interceptions to his eight touchdowns last season for Chicago.
"I watch the film and I see an offense that can turn it on and be explosive at any given moment, no matter what the score is or what else is going on," Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. "I know they're beat up. ... But we can't let up on this team."
The Falcons did in Week 1. And they paid for it, blowing a 16-point lead as Winston threw two touchdown passes and led the offense to a game-winning 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds left.
Three fourth-quarter possessions, 17 points. Not bad.
"That was exciting," Winston said afterward. "We just have to find a way to get there quicker."
So far, not so good. The Saints have only three points in the first three quarters of their past two games, losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina.
They have also had 11 fourth-quarter possessions the past two weeks. They have ended this way: five interceptions, one fumble, one turnover on downs, three touchdowns and one punt.
So, to recap, the Saints offense has six of its nine turnovers but also five of its six touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"We have no idea what's going to happen," Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "If you watch the film, they have speed all over the place. Big-time weapons.
"Why they've done this or that in the fourth quarter, I can't tell you. I don't know. It's a cliché, but just be up and make sure you're ready to stop them all 60 minutes."