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Halo 01-25-2010 12:34 PM

Perfectly Imprefect - Saints Beat Vikings to reach first Super Bowl
 
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By Brian Allee-Walsh – Finally, mercifully, the long, insufferable wait is over.

It took the first 43 years, two months, 23 days, 21 hours and 19 minutes since the franchise’s inception on Nov. 1, 1966, but the New Orleans Saints can now proudly say they are going to the Super Bowl after an improbable 31-28 victory in overtime against the turnover-plagued Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at the Superdome.

Second-year kicker Garrett Hartley drilled a 40-yard field goal high and true with 10:15 remaining in OT to win the NFC Championship and send the Black and Gold (15-3) on to Super Bowl XLIV where they will face the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) on Feb. 7 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

Hartley’s footjoy sent shock waves through the sellout crowd of 71,276, touched off a Black and Gold confetti shower and moved owner Tom Benson to break out his signature parasol and boogey down Who Dat Lane.

“I still feel like I’m floating,’’ Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. “Man, I was nervous. My stomach had never been in knots like that. I was a wreck the whole overtime period, but especially at the moment Garrett kicked it.’’

Let the record show, Hartley’s kick from the right hash mark sailed through the uprights in the Girod Street end zone at precisely 9:19 p.m., on the 24th day of January, in the year 2010.

It came on the heels of some encouraging words from Coach Sean Payton during a Vikings’ timeout ostensibly to freeze Hartley.

“I just told him there’s a little fleur de lis up there right between both uprights, and I said, ‘Why don’t you see if you hit that fleur de lis dead center,’ ’’ Payton said. “I told him we belong, you are here for a reason and you are going to hit it through.’’

“I just knew when it came off my foot that it was going to split the pipes,’’ said Hartley, whose season got off to a rocky start after serving a four-game suspension for using a banned substance.

Afterward, Payton struggled for words, though he acknowledged the devastation to the Superdome caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2006 that left “holes in this roof.’’

“It’s a pretty surreal moment,’’ said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 17 of 31 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 106.5. “Words can’t describe the feeling. You think back to four years ago, coming here post-Katrina, Sean Payton’s first year. I’ll remember forever the phone call that he gave me, telling me they wanted me to be their quarterback.

“We had a goal and dream back then. There was this opportunity to play for a Super Bowl Championship. It feels great. It’s unbelievable.’’

Unbelievable aptly describes the manner in which the Vikings handled, make that mishandled, the football Sunday night.

They were charged with five turnovers but the number could have been much higher.

The Vikings saved their worst for last, an ill-advised throw by 40-year-old icon/quarterback Brett Favre of Kiln, Miss., with seven seconds remaining in regulation.

With the score tied at 28 and the Vikings facing a third-and-15 at the Saints 38, Favre got flushed out of the pocket. Rolling right, with ample running room in front of him, he eyed what he thought was an open receiver (Sidney Rice).

Favre pulled a rookie move, throwing back across his body into the middle of the field, where a lying-in-wait Saints cornerback Tracy Porter made him pay dearly. Porter’s interception and 26-yard return killed any chance of a potential game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell and enabled the Saints to continue the good fight.

“If (Favre) completes the ball they’re in field-goal range, they kick the field goal and the Vikings are in the Super Bowl,’’ Porter said. “We know Brett likes to roll and scramble around and throw across his body. He has a strong arm and he can make plays.

“I happened to see Sidney Rice coming across the middle and Brett was looking at him, eyeing him down, and I sat down in front of him. He happened to throw the ball and I made a great play.’’

One player earlier, the Vikings were assessed a 5-yard penalty for having 12 players in the huddle. Somehow, inexplicably, an extra Viking (fullback Naufahu Tahi) came onto the field following a timeout.

“When that happened at that point in the game, I was sitting there thinking, ‘This has got to be our year,’ ’’ Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “The next play, (Favre) kind of scrambled and threw across his body and he didn’t have anything on it. And, Tracy just sat there waiting for the receiver to come across.’’

In hindsight, Favre said he should have tucked the ball under his arm and run and turned the game over to the Vikings’ field goal unit. He might not have gotten too far on a gimpy left ankle, courtesy of a high-low hit by Saints defensive linemen Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“After the penalty, we were out of field goal range,’’ Favre said. “I’m not even sure what the exact yardage was that we needed, but the play was designed actually to go to Bernard (Berrian) in the flat. They were in man coverage and they checked out of it (into zone).’’

The Saints won the coin toss to open the overtime period. The Vikings called heads and it came up tails.

Running back Pierre Thomas, subbing for injured kicker returner Courtney Roby, provided a quick shot of momentum with a 40-yard return to the Saints 39. From there, the Saints inched their way downfield, converting two third-down plays and a fourth-and-1 to get into field goal range.

The telling play came on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 43. During a booth review, Payton called his offense to the sideline and outlined his plans, knowing a Vikings’ stop would give the visitors excellent field position.

“He gave us the play and asked if we liked it,’’ Saints right guard Jahri Evans said. “We said, ‘Yeah.’ Somebody yelled, ‘We love it.’ He reminded us that we had come too far to get stopped.’’

When play resumed, Brees turned and handed the ball to Pierre Thomas and Flight 23 did the rest, diving over a pile of bodies for two yards and a first down.

“I’m trying to think of the call,’’ Payton said. “Did we go for it? We weren’t close enough for a field goal. Pierre ran behind those two guards (Evans and Carl Nicks) and Goody (center Jonathan Goodwin) and did a great job of getting the yard-and-a-half that we needed.’’

“We went low and Pierre went up over us,’’ Evans said. “We tried to man up and push our men. We weren’t even trying to get up to the second level guys. We were just trying to get our guys up front and get a yard.’’

On paper, the Saints probably had no business winning the game.

They lost nearly every meaningful statistical category (first downs, total yards, third-down efficiency, time of possession, among others), except the ones that counted … the score and the all-important turnover battle.

The Saints finished plus-4, forcing five turnovers and committing just one.

When asked if the Saints won the game or the Vikings lost it, Shanle replied: “We won it. I think when it came down to who made the plays when it was time to do it, we did.

“Tracy Porter made the interception. Then, Garrett Hartley makes the field goal. No, they didn’t lose it, we won it.’’

After 43 years, two months, 23 days, 21 hours and 19 minutes, it’s about time.

Linkback: NewOrleans.com

homerj07 01-25-2010 09:15 PM

Re: Perfectly Imprefect - Saints Beat Vikings to reach first Super Bowl
 
Isn't that the truth!! Our team won it - We made the plays we had to make. Stats be dammed!!

fansince73 01-26-2010 01:27 AM

Re: Perfectly Imprefect - Saints Beat Vikings to reach first Super Bowl
 
Sometimes you win ugly. Not every Victory is clear cut and statistically telling. We lost many of those over the years, Nice too win one like that when it really counted.

breesfan27 01-26-2010 03:53 AM

Re: Perfectly Imprefect - Saints Beat Vikings to reach first Super Bowl
 
In my opinion, everything before Sunday night doesnt' exist.

The 3 straight losses, the past 43 years, all of it doesn't matter anymore.

We're in the Super Bowl, and THAT'S all that matters to me.

JoanieNTX 01-26-2010 11:13 AM

Re: Perfectly Imprefect - Saints Beat Vikings to reach first Super Bowl
 
LOL....our team is versatile, for sure! We win against the Cards with a tough defense and a finesse' offense. We got down and really nasty dirty against the Vikings. Looks like the Saints do "whatever it takes" to get the "W"! I'm still pinching myself, looking out for flying pigs, and feeling an inmeasurable amount of pride for this scrappy team!


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