Who dat say dey can hold onto the ball?
When coaches talk about complete effort, they say a team should “leave it all out on the field.” The Minnesota Vikings should note that they’re not talking about the football.
Turnovers were the story as the New Orleans Saints advanced to their first Super Bowl in a sloppy classic, defeating the Vikings in overtime, 31-28. They’ll meet the Indianapolis Colts, led by Saints legend Archie Manning’s son Peyton, who eliminated the Jets, 30-17.
It wasn’t exactly a Big Easy for the Saints, who were outgained 475-257 and committed four more penalties for fifty-six more yards. The Vikings never touched the ball in overtime, but for once the team in that position had no right to complain: if they had gotten the ball, they’d have probably just dropped it.
The Vikes had a thirteen-and-a-half minute possession advantage in regulation, had more than twice as many first downs, but handed the Saints three fumbles and two interceptions to kill the drives that would have made overtime unnecessary. Minnesota never punted in the second half; the results of its last seven drives, beginning with less than two minutes to go in the first half: fumble (at the New Orleans 10), touchdown, interception (New Orleans 28), fumble (Minnesota 22, recovered at the 7, led to a touchdown), fumble (New Orleans 10, recovered at the 5), touchdown, interception (New Orleans 22).
Brett Favre was 28-of-46 for 310 yards; it was just his second 300-yard playoff game since his Super Bowl years, and the most passes he’d ever thrown in the postseason. The Saints made a point of roughing up the forty-year-old quarterback, hitting him on his release and drawing two fifteen-yard penalties without recording a sack. He limped off the field in the third quarter after throwing his first interception, a throw he hurried as he was being hit high and rolled low. He came back for the next series, but was noticeably hobbled.
The Vikings got a good look at the two sides of Adrian Peterson: the powerful breakaway runner who’d been missing since week nine and finished the game with 122 yards and three touchdowns, and the Crisco-handed fumbler who put the ball on the ground three times. Minnesota only lost one of them, and that was charged to Favre as Peterson closed his forearms before receiving the ball on the handoff at the New Orleans 10 near the end of the first half.
For the Saints, Drew Brees was efficient if not spectacular, throwing downfield often enough to open up the running lanes for screen and swing passes to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. On the third-and-goal that followed a Percy Harvin fumble, Brees moved to the right, away from the rush, and looked to Bush, who was in the right flat and had checked behind him for open space. As Bush drifted toward the sideline, Brees drilled the ball to him at the Vikings’ one. Bush was hit, but turned and shifted the ball to his left as he was knocked to the pylon, dragging the ball around it. The officials ruled him out short of the goal line, but Sean Payton threw the challenge flag and the call was overturned, giving New Orleans a 28-21 lead.
After another Vikings fumble in the red zone, the Saints punted, and Favre, Peterson, and a pass interference call led to a touchdown and a tie score with five minutes to play. The Vikings defense forced a three-and-out, and Favre took over on his own 21 with 2:37 to go, all three timeouts, and a chance to redeem himself for every case of Favre Fatigue he’s caused with his serial offseason waffling.
Two Peterson runs gained a total of two yards. A third-down pass went to Bernard Berrian, who caught it at the 28, spun, and squirted his way for the first down at the 33. Timeout, Vikings. On first and ten Favre hit Sidney Rice for 20 yards to the Saints’ 47. Chester Taylor ran over left guard for fourteen; the Vikings were in field-goal range. New Orleans took timeout, with 1:06 to go.
Runs by Taylor and Peterson gained nothing. The Vikings took their second timeout with 0:19 on the clock. Before the next play, they were flagged for having 12 men in the huddle, bringing the ball back to the 38, at the very edge of kicker Ryan Longwell’s range.
On third and 15, Favre faked a handoff and rolled to the right. He had about five yards available to him, and a younger man might have tucked in the ball and bulled his way into field goal territory. But a younger Favre might have done exactly what he did: threw an ill-advised pass across his body into the middle of the field, where Sidney Rice was waiting for it, but as the ball hung, cornerback Tracy Porter closed on it and grabbed the interception, returning it to the 48. Two plays later, it was overtime. Five game minutes later, the Saints were in the Super Bowl.
For the second time in three years, Favre’s last pass in the NFC championship game was an interception with the score tied. In 2008, it was in overtime against the Giants. In 2010, it took the game off Longwell’s foot and handed it to the referee for the coin toss. The coin hit the ground with its head down; the Vikings left the Superdome the same way.
It won’t be easy for the people of New Orleans to root against a Manning, but they’ll manage. Les bon temps roulez on to Miami.