Saints host Vikings in NFC championship game

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints will host the NFC North champion Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome. Kickoff is schedule for 5:40 p.m. and will be nationally televised by FOX Sports.

The Saints, winners of the NFC South with a conference best record of 13-3, advanced to their second championship game in the past four seasons when they handily defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 45-14, on Saturday afternoon at home in front of a raucous crowd.

The championship game will be played in New Orleans for the first time in the 43-year history of the Saints. The winner of the contest will punch their ticket to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida on Sunday, February 7 in Dolphins Stadium.

Ironically, both the Saints and Vikings won their conference playoff contests by 31 points each.

The Vikings earned the trip to New Orleans by defeating the Dallas Cowboys, 34-3, courtesy of a swarming defensive effort that caused three turnovers, sacked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo four times and capitalized with a pair of first half touchdown passes from Brett Favre to WR Sidney Rice, with the two also connecting again in the fourth quarter to salt the game.

The Vikings own a 2-0 all-time record against the Saints in the postseason, having won 44-10 at New Orleans on January 3, 1988 in an NFC Wild Card playoff game, and in Minnesota, 34-16, on January 6, 2001 in an NFC Divisional Playoff contest.

Among the many subplots to play out this week will be free safety Darren Sharper’s first contest played against his former team, as well as the return to the south for Kiln, Mississippi native Brett Favre.

The contest will also be a re-match of a highly emotional regular season game played on Monday Night Football in the Superdome on October 6, 2008. In that contest Saints running back Reggie Bush returned two punts for touchdowns, marking just the 12th time in NFL history that a player had done so and the first time a Saints player had achieved the feat. Bush averaged 35.2 yards on five punt returns and tallied 269 all-purpose yards (176 punt return, 64 receiving and 29 rushing).

The Vikings, however, won the game on a 30-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell with :13 left in the fourth quarter, giving Minnesota the 30-27 victory.

The Vikings, who led 20-10 at halftime, watched as the Saints took a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter, courtesy of Bush’s 64-yard punt return for a touchdown. However quarterback Gus Frerotte would hit wide receiver Bernard Berrian on a 33-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter to knot the game at 27. A stalled Saints’ offensive drive led to Minnesota gaining possession and driving 51 yards in six plays, which set up the game-winning field goal.

Sunday’s match-up will pit the top two seeds in the NFC against each other, with the Saints having earned the home field advantage via the better regular season record.

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