It has been only one day since the New Orleans Saints entered the Louisiana Superdome and punched their ticket to Super Bowl XLIV by defeating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime. Yes, only one day and the excitement has not died down yet.
Doubt it is going to either.
The NFC Championship game was by far one of the top two or three games I've ever seen in my close to thirty years of watching the Saints and NFL football. Back and forth action. Turnovers all over the place. An electric atmosphere. And perhaps the greatest finish these eyes have ever seen. I still get goosebumps when I think of Jim Henderson's final call, "It's good! It's good! It's goo-oo-ood! Ha ha ha! Pigs have flown. Hell has frozen over. The Saints are headed to the Super Bowl."
Every single one of the Saints' squad put forth the effort needed to win on Sunday night even though it was not one of their better games. Drew Brees and company produced only 257 yards of total offense. Reggie Bush did not have anywhere near the masterful game he had against the Arizona Cardinals. Marques Colston only had two receptions the entire game while Jeremy Shockey and Lance Moore only had one each. The defense even gave up 475 yards to Brett Favre and that Vikings' offense. Not an ideal game by any stretch of the imagination.
But there were heroes and there were heroic moments or else this game would not have been a victory. Let's take a look at the names that put forth the great efforts and the signature moments that led to the greatest win in franchise history...for now. First, the heroes:
- Drew Brees - The leader on the field and in the locker room continued his dominance without even putting up huge numbers. If you watched the way he threw the ball, one could even say that he was extremely off most of the game. He completed 17/31 passes for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns and most importantly, no interceptions.
- Jonathan Vilma - 5 tackles, 2 passes defended, a recovered fumble, and an interception. One of the two big generals of this defense (along with Darren Sharper), played his heart out and made sure that nothing would be left in the tank when the game was over. Vilma is a force to be reckoned with and I'd like to thank the Jets for not having a system that worked for one of the best linebackers in the game right now.
- Pierre Thomas - Like Brees, this was not a huge game for anyone on the offense but Thomas was a train looking to plow anyone down that was in his way. He got some good blocking on that screen pass that he ran in for the touchdown, but a lot of that was all him. It was a beautiful run as were just about every single one of his strong and punishing carries.
- Thomas Morstead - He's been proving his worth and that the Saints moving up to get him in the draft was a great move and not risky, but Sunday was the night Morstead showed just how much he means to this team. 3 of his 5 kickoffs were touchbacks virtually taking Percy Harvin out of the game. Morstead punted 7 times for an average of 51.3 yards with 4 of them being inside the twenty yard line. Only 3 punts were returned and they were for a total of 15 yards. Let's not forget his longest punt of the night was 63 yards. This kid is something special and the main reason the Saints stayed in the game when the offense couldn't convert on turnovers. Field position is a huge factor in every game.
- Tracy Porter - 8 tackles, 1 pass defended, and the interception that sent the game into overtime.
- Garrett Hartley - When the Vikings froze the kicker with a timeout, it allowed Joe Buck and Troy Aikman enough time to show Hartley's missed field goal from the Tampa Bay loss that just screamed "Jinx!" The second-year player kept his poise for the biggest kick of his life and put it right between the uprights.
- Jermon Bushrod - So he can't contain Jared Allen huh? Yeah, he got help every now and then but any offensive lineman in the NFL would need help against Allen. Still, everyone was thinking Bushrod would get manhandled the entire game. All you need to do is look at Allen's stat line for the game: 2 tackles and one QB hit. That's it.
- You, the fans (home and in the Dome) - Trust me...this city has come together and rallied around this team and the enthusiasm, noise, cheers, chants, dancing, and so much more has truly helped more then you may ever know.
Now, the moments we'll all remember forever. I doubt much explanation is necessary.
- Fumbles, fumbles, and more fumbles - I just don't get it. Sure Adrian Peterson has had a fumbling problem ever since coming into the league but that was ridiculous. Peterson's fumble right before the half was the biggest of all. A total of 6 fumbles and losing 3 of them is bad enough, but the Vikings got lucky. 2 more of those fumbles should have been recovered by the Saints and could have been. Remember boys, FALL ON THE BALL!
- Pierre Thomas' Touchdown - nuff said.
- Favre goes down...Favre goes down HARD - Not a single sack was recorded, but Brett Favre knew each member of the Saints' defense personally by the time the night was over. He also became good friends with the turf at the Superdome. That guy is old but he's a warrior to stay in the game the whole time with each vicious hit after vicious hit he took. Still, the hits took their toll and rattled him into mistakes.
- Vilma's Interception - Favre had been making some great throws all game with an over throw here and there, but he was keeping it away from the Saint's defense. That is until the pressure got to him and he three into a group of three Saints with Vilma picking it off.
- Tracy Porter's Interception - Was anything bigger in this game then this play? Seriously.
- Garrett Hartley's Game-Winning Kick - The kick heard round the world folks.
Believe me, I could go through the entire game and pick out moments and players that stood out to me, but that is due to a tiny bit of bias. Just a tiny bit mind you, but the bias is there. Still, this was not a pretty game at all and the Saints are going to need to take the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl so that they can heal up and get some things in order. That holds especially true for the offensive side of the ball. It's been our bread and butter all season, but it just seemed like dry toast a lot of the time on Sunday.
My nerves are still bad and my ears are still ringing, but the Saints are the NFC Champions of this NFL season. Many call it luck or skill or destiny, but my thoughts are that it is a combination of everything honestly. I'd also like to say that my cousin Donnie got one of the best birthday presents on Sunday with the Saints' victory and that was a little bit of karma that was on our side. He's a die hard fan just like me and I can't think of a more deserving guy to get such a gift. Happy Birthday bro!
So so much to write about everyone and it is going to be a long two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, but we've got a lot to cover so be prepared for plenty of commentary, news, analysis, picks, and more. Miami here we come...WHO DAT!