Saints Marching Into Super Bowl After Beating Vikings In Overtime, 31-28

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Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT): Hartley's 40-Yard FG Sends New Orleans To Super Bowl XLIV

Brett Favre giveth and taketh away in NFC title games; read more about his latest example at our Vikings blog, Daily Norseman. And Saints fans, congratulations on your Super Bowl appearance -- join in the celebration at our Saints blog, Canal Street Chronicles

New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal 4:45 into overtime moved the Saints into the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, as they beat Minnesota, 31-28, in the NFC Championship Game.

New Orleans will play Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami on February 7. Indianapolis beat the visiting New York Jets, 30-17, in the AFC title game earlier Sunday.

Brett Favre couldn't lead the Vikings to their first Super Bowl appearance since January 1977. Minnesota was hurt by five turnovers. The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer was picked off twice, including a costly interception with only seven seconds remaining in regulation after the Vikings drove into New Orleans territory. The Vikings also fumbled six times, losing three of them.

Following a New Orleans punt, the Vikings got the ball back with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter and moved from their own 21 into field goal range. But on third down from the 33 and with 19 seconds left, Minnesota was penalized for having 12 men in the huddle. Favre then rolled to his right and threw across his body for Sidney Rice, but Tracy Porter intercepted the ball and returned to near midfield. Two incomplete passes from Drew Brees led to overtime.

"I thought I probably should have run," Favre said. "In hindsight, that's probably what I should have done. I don't know how many yards we needed for a field goal, but I knew we needed some. It was just a late decision."

Favre never got a chance at redemption as the Saints won the coin toss, took advantage of a pair of penalties and converted a fourth down before Hartley made his historic kick.

Long gone are the days of bags over the heads of fans at the Superdome from a team that suffered through fourth straight seasons of 10-plus losses in the late 1990s and the horrific images from 2005 when the Superdome was the site of something much more important than football. The building sheltered thousands of people after devastating Hurricane Katrina came ashore in the Crescent City.

"This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "It's not wet anymore. This is for the city of New Orleans."

Brees completed 17-of-31 passes for 197 yards with three touchdowns, while Pierre Thomas gained 61 yards on the ground and ran for a score for the Saints.

"It's probably going to be nuts around here for a little bit, but that's to be expected," Brees said. "When you look at the weight of this game and what it meant for us to go out and get a victory today, we couldn't have done it without our fans. It feels so good to know we've given our fans a championship, and NFC championship, but we've got another championship we're going after in two weeks."

Favre, a three-time NFL MVP who became the oldest quarterback to start a conference championship game, finished 28-of-46 for 310 yards with a TD, but the late interception cost the Vikings.

After the game, Favre was asked if he'd consider coming back for another year, which would be his 20th in the NFL, even though he has one year left on his contract with the Vikings. He came out of retirement for a second time to join the Vikings after playing one year with the Jets, but most of his time (16 years) has been spent with Green Bay.

Favre said he will take a little time before making a decision.

"I know people will roll their eyes," Favre said. "In a situation like this I really don't want to make a decision right now based on solely what's happened, but I do know the year could not have gone any better, aside from us not going to Miami.

"I'd love to win the Super Bowl, who wouldn't, but I know I'm going out on top one way or the other. I didn't think I had anything to prove coming in, but if there were doubters out there maybe I served notice to them."

Bernard Berrian made nine catches for 102 yards, but had a big fumble, one of two turnovers in the red zone for the Vikings. Adrian Peterson had 122 yards rushing and three scores, but also fumbled the ball away.

The Saints held the ball for 10 plays and moved 39 yards in OT for the winning score. On 3rd-and-6 from the New Orleans 43, Brees' pass to Marques Colston fell incomplete, but cornerback Asher Allen was called for holding. Then on 4th-and-1 from the Minnesota 43, Thomas jumped into the air for a first down. A video review for the spot of the ball ensued for the second straight play, but the Saints were awarded a first down.

A 12-yard pass interference call on linebacker Ben Leber moved the ball to the 29, and a sliding catch by Robert Meachem set up the win. Hartley, who was suspended four games at the start of the season for testing positive for a banned stimulant, then nailed the winning kick and sent Bourbon Street into euphoria.

The Vikings got the ball after the game's opening kickoff and moved 80 yards in 10 plays, capped by Peterson's 19-yard dash to the end zone on a surge off left guard.

Brees immediately led the Saints to the tying score, a 38-yard pass to Thomas with 6 1/2 minutes left in the opening quarter. Brees connected on a seven- yard gain to Meachem on 3rd-and-5 and later culminated the 76-yard push with a screen pass to the right for Thomas, who broke a tackle before powering to the end zone.

The offensive showcase continued the next time the Vikings touched the ball, as Favre engineered a 73-yard march in 10 plays, converting a trio of third downs, the last one being a five-yard TD strike over the middle to Rice with 2:11 left in the quarter.

A nine-yard TD pass from Brees to Devery Henderson in the right corner of the end zone tied the game at 14 with 10 1/2 minutes left in the half. The big play was a 28-yard pass to Reggie Bush on a 3rd-and-10 play, which advanced the ball to the Minnesota 36.

A muffed punt return by Bush nearly cost the Saints with about a minute left in the half. That gave Minnesota the ball at the 10, but on the ensuing play, Favre's handoff to Peterson caromed off the running back's hand and Scott Fujita recovered for the Saints, who ran out the remaining time.

Courtney Roby returned the second-half kickoff 61 yards, putting the Saints in prime position, and Thomas scored on a nine-yard run off right guard for a 21-14 lead.

Minnesota came right back to tie the game as Peterson, who fumbled earlier in the drive only to have fullback Naufahu Tahi recover, powered into the end zone with 7:35 left in the quarter. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe made a one- handed 21-yard catch on third down to set up the TD play.

Peterson continued to struggle maintaining possession as he fumbled on Minnesota's next touch, but fell on the ball. Favre moved the team to the New Orleans 34, but then crumpled to the ground while being picked off by Jonathan Vilma.

Favre was sandwiched high by Remi Ayodele and low by Bobby McCray causing the quarterback's left leg to twist. Favre was helped off the field, the ankle was re-taped on the sideline and he went back into the game after a New Orleans punt, the turnovers continued to haunt the Vikings.

Percy Harvin had the ball stripped away by Will Smith and Ayodele recovered, giving the Saints possession at the Minnesota seven. That led to the Saints moving ahead 28-21 with 12:39 remaining.

On third down, Bush received a pass on the right side of the field and was pushed out of bounds by safety Tyrell Johnson just shy of the goal line, but the call was reversed after a challenge. Video replay showed Bush twisted and stretched the ball just over the goal line.

Favre then drove the Vikings from their own 20 into the red zone again. He connected with Berrian for a 30-yard gain to the 20, but two plays later Berrian was stripped after making a catch inside the 10. Porter used his left hand to knock the ball away and Vilma recovered at the five.

The Saints weren't able to get a first down on the ensuing possession and the Vikings tied the game on a two-yard power run up the middle by Peterson with 4:58 remaining. Favre threw to Shiancoe for 16 yards to convert a 3rd-and-6, and a pass interference penalty on Porter placed the ball at the one before Peterson scored on second down.

"It's hard," Vikings coach Brad Childress said of the turnovers. "Playoff teams are 8-0 when they're plus in the giveaway/takeaway. It's rare that we're standing there at that point."

Favre passed Joe Montana (460) for the most completions in postseason history...The Vikings have never won the Super Bowl (0-4) and have lost their last five conference title game appearances...The Saints were in the NFC title game following the 2006 season, but lost 39-14 in Chicago.

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Vikings Fumble (Again), Saints Score (Again)

Minnesota's fifth fumble of the game, and second they lost -- this one by Percy Harvin -- set up the Saints at the Vikings' seven. From there, Drew Brees found Reggie Bush flaring out to the right for a five-yard touchdown, giving New Orleans a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. 

And as I was typing this, the Vikings fumbled, again. That's six total fumbles, three lost. Add to that Brett Favre's interception, and it's pretty surprising Minnesota is only down seven with their four turnovers. 

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Can The Favre Legend Grow???

Brett Favre is back in the game, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be the same. On second and 8 and the 10th play of the Vikings drive, Fox Broadcaster Joe Buck said, “Favre’s still smiling.” Just like that, the Vikings star quarterback American Hero Brett Favre dropped back and Buck finished his sentence... "He's picked off!" Justice: Served.

And to make matters worse, Favre was hurt on the play when he suffered a hi-low hit from two Saints defenders that left him writhing around on the ground. Just like a kid out there. Now, he’s back in the game, but still limping around. By the looks of it, he’s not 100%.

As Fox broadcaster Joe Buck wondered upon Favre’s return, “Can the Legend grow any more?” He didn’t mean it this way, but it works nonetheless: the Favre fawning was the stuff of legend years ago… Can it be taken to new heights with a comeback, fourth quarter, PLAYIN’ HURT victory in the NFC Championship game? Please, please please please, no.

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Third Quarter, Where The Saints And Vikings Decided To Score Again

The Saints took advantage of a 61-yard kickoff return by Courtney Roby to start the second half and turned it into a quick four-play drive to score and take their first lead of the NFC Championship. 

A Drew Brees pass to David Thomas got the ball to the Vikings' 20 yard line, and then three straight rushes by Pierre Thomas -- the final a nine-yard TD run -- made it 21-14 in favor of New Orleans. 

Since scoring on their first two drives, the Vikings have gone punt, punt, punt and fumble. Until I started typing that sentence, of course. Minnesota just retied the game once again, making it 21-21 on a one-yard Adrian Peterson dive. 

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Vikings Answer Back, Re-Take The Lead, 14-7

It’s only been a quarter, but we know this much: Brett Favre and the Vikings are hitting on all cylinders. The Saints defense? Not so much. Favre and the Vikings went 48 yards in 10 plays, culminating with a 5 yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Sidney Rice.

On the impending possession, New Orleans was held to a 3-and-out, and the Vikings are set to take over possession. Can anybody stop the FAVRE JUGGERNAUT? Now seems like a good time to say it: If the Vikings win tonight, and we’re subjected to 14 days of Manning and Favre hype, I’m just gonna stop watching sports. For sanity’s sake. Come on, New Orleans.

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The Shooutout In New Orleans Has Begun

Who dat? Apparently, Adrian Peterson thinks he gonna beat dem Saints. The Vikings opened the game with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, resulting in a 19-yard Peterson touchdown run. Brett Favre was 6-for-7 with 47 yards and the Vikings never had to deal with a third down. Though, his Playing Like A Kid measurement was only a 17.2 -- hopefully he works on that. 

Just a little more than three minutes later, the Saints answered, tying the game 7-7 when Pierre Thomas took a screen pass 38 yards down the right sidelines for a touchdown of their own. 

Hope you didn't come for the defense ... 

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Canal Street Chronicles: Gregg Williams Vs. Brett Favre

Wisdom about football can come from the most unexpected sources. Over at Canal Street Chronicles, they’ve come to the conclusion that stopping Brett Favre, not Adrian Peterson, is the key to beating Minnesota. But how to accomplish that? The burden falls on Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And that’s where the unexpected comes in. Saintsational, the lead blogger at CSC, was talking to Larry the UPS Guy, and Larry said that Gregg Williams has owned Favre in the past. So CSC did some checking and found that Williams’ defenses over the years have indeed had good games playing Brett Favre, but victory has been elusive.

The first thing you’ll notice, and this is the bad news, is that Gregg Williams has never found a way to beat Favre. Plain and simple. Every single time Favre has played a team coached by Williams, he has won. There isn’t much arguing with that. But the second thing you’ll notice is that one of these games is not like the others. Obviously, Favre had a pretty good day against the Tennessee Oilers over eleven years ago. The other times though? Not so much. Gregg Williams has owned Brett Favre in the last three games he has had to plan for him.

In those three games since 2002, Brett Favre was sacked five times and had an average passer rating of 48.6. That’s got to bode well for the Saints. The most important stat, however, is that in those three games Favre has thrown a total of seven interceptions. Seven!

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Canal Street Chronicles: NFC Championship Q&A

We sent over some questions about the NFC Championship game and the New Orleans Saints to Canal Street Chronicles – see the results below.

What weakness of the Vikings are the Saints going to exploit?

I hope the Saints take advantage of the mediocre offensive line of the Vikings. Brett Favre can take over a game but if the Saints defense can create good pressure and keep Favre uncomfortable in the pocket, their chance of victory skyrockets.


What weakness on the Saints will the Vikings go after?

To properly answer this question I would first have to admit that the Saints actually have a weakness and I’m not so sure I’m willing to do that. Seriously though, I’m probably most concerned about the offensive line being able to the handle the Vikings defensive pass rush. I expect Payton to give the front four some help up front, getting creative with his tight ends and running backs.

Evaluate the Saints head coach (and staff) in terms of being ready for a playoff game like this.

Of all the coaches remaining in this years playoff, I genuinely believe Sean Payton is by far the most prepared. Since he’s taken over the team in 2006, he has had a noticeably intense focus on winning a championship. As an example of his savvy, last week he brought back the franchises most beloved player, Deuce McAllister, as honorary captain. You can imagine how fans and this city reacted; if they weren’t pumped for the game before, they certainly were afterwards. Classy and respectful, no doubt. But also a genius PR move and morale booster. Payton wants this bad.

Give us a ‘surprise’ player who could be a star on Sunday.

LT Jermon Bushrod. He’s not going to score any points and you probably won’t hear about him too much but Bushrod will be responsible for making sure Jared Allen never even gets a whiff of Drew Brees’ scent. It’s one of, if not the most, important job on the field but one that gets little recognition.

Finish this statement: If we don’t win this game I’ll…

pull out each one of my armpit hairs slowly. Seriously, this is the most important game in Saints history. They have never been to a Super Bowl in 43 years of history.

Prediction.

I know people think this is going to be a great, close game but having been in the building last week when the Saints beat the Cardinals, I think home-field advantage will be too much. Saints run away with it, 38-17.

Visit Canal Street Chronicles for the most complete coverage of the New Orleans Saints available anywhere .

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Daily Norseman: Crossing The Line

For the second week in a row, the Minnesota Vikings defense will be facing a high-powered offense. The Dallas Cowboys offense was second in the league in yards per game, ranking only behind the New Orleans Saints who were first. The difference between the Cowboys and the Saints is the Cowboys only ranked 14th in points scored/game. The Saints were first (with the Vikes second).

The Vikings defense was able to not only contain Dallas, but shut them down. Can they repeat the trick this week? Daily Norseman hopes so:

Mismatches: The biggest mismatch on the field this past Sunday was Minnesota’s defensive line against Dallas’ offensive line. They were on Tony Romo like a fat man at a buffet from almost the first play, and didn’t let up until they had to loosen their belt buckle for fear of intestinal stomach rupture. I think Dallas’ offensive line is better than what New Orleans has to offer, especially at tackle. I think this is the biggest mismatch on the field, and one the Vikings must exploit if they are to win. If they don’t, New Orleans will be able to take advantage of the second biggest mismatch on the field: Drew Brees against the Vikings secondary. It’s not that the Vikings are void of talent, but if you let a guy like Brees get comfortable in the pocket and go through his progressions, he will shred the Vikings.

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Canal Street Chronicles: Keys To Victory

When the New Orleans Saints locked up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they did it for good reason. The Superdome has turned into one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, and loud fans cause disruptions for the opposing offense. Credit goes to the New Orleans organization for putting together a fun, exciting team to watch that wins; and to the residents of New Orleans for their resiliency in the face of natural disaster and embracing this team.

But, everybody is always looking for a little extra advantage. Canal Street Chronicles is no exception. The NFL forbids fans bringing in noise-making devices, so they suggest a ready alternative. Your keys. The NFL can’t ban your keys, and according to tests in the college ranks, jangling keys can create some noise.

I’ve personally never heard of this tactic before but it’s simple and makes sense. One set of keys alone doesn’t really seem intimidating but think about the high-pitch of 69,000 sets of door openers clinking and clanking inside a closed roof building. And I’m not saying fans should do this instead of screaming and yelling. Oh no. I’m talking about jingling your keys in addition to shouting at the top of your lungs. Think about the decibel possibilities! And, of course, this is totally legal since all fans are allowed to bring their house keys to the game with them. Catch us now, Goodell!

So I’m calling for a Key-Out this Sunday. Yeah, you heard me right. Janitors, unite!

Your move, Roger Goodell.

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