Saints nip Vikings for first Super Bowl berth

BY Mike Rizzuto

LSN WRITER

After 43 long years of waiting, pigs are flying, hell’s freezing over and cows are jumping over the moon, as the star-crossed New Orleans Saints are headed to the prestigious Super Bowl in Miami!

The beloved Black and Gold from the Crescent City earned their first ever National Football Conference Championship Title in the fabulous Superdome this past Sunday evening, January 24, 2010, beating the Minnesota Vikings in overtime by a final score of 31-28 to earn their first ever Super Bowl berth.

But it wasn’t easy.

In fact, the Saints blew a 28-21 lead in the final quarter, allowed their foes to tie the contest, and then watched Viking quarterback Brett Favre drive his team to the New Orleans 33 with just under a minute left to position place-kicker Ryan Longwell with a potential 50-yard game-winning field goal attempt.

But the fickle fingers of fate then intervened as the Vikings were assessed a five yard penalty for having 12 players in their huddle, pushing them back to the Saint 38 with 19 seconds remaining.

And then Favre, arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to don a uniform, rolled to his right, shunned a four or five yard run, and fired a pass against the grain across his body to the middle of the football field.

Just before the pass reached a waiting Viking receiver, Saints’ cornerback Tracy Porter stepped in front of everyone, picked off the pass, and returned it near midfield to send the game into overtime.

The Saints then watched the Vikings call “heads” on the coin toss and lose, and Pierre Thomas returned the kickoff in overtime to the New Orleans 39.

Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees then led his team down the field to the Viking 23, setting up kicker Garrett Hartley with a 40-yard field goal.

Hartley, who had hooked a 37-yard field goal to blow a game in the Superdome against Tampa Bay earlier this season, had to endure an “icing attempt” when the Vikings called time out to make him think about the kick a bit more.

But when action resumed, Hartley made a kick for the ages, blasting the pigskin high and far above the center of the uprights, vaulting the Saints into this year’s Super Bowl and setting off the wildest celebration ever seen in any arena as the Saints won the NFC Title by a score of 31-28.

Although the game was dominated offensively by the Vikings, who piled up 475 yards and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes, the Saints won the game defensively by forcing four Minnesota turnovers. And that turned out to be the proverbial Achille’s heel for the Vikings on this particular evening.

Minnesota won the coin toss in regulation to start the game, driving 80 yards in ten plays, scoring on running back Adrian Peterson’s 19-yard scamper over left guard to take a 7-0 lead.

New Orleans tied the score moments later, as Brees marched his team down the field on a seven-play, 76-yard drive which concluded with a 38-yard screen pass for a touchdown to running back Pierre Thomas.

Favre would engineer yet another Viking first quarter score that was aided by a Saint personal foul on third down. Minnesota took advantage of that call and drove to the Saint five, where Favre hit Sidney Rice in the middle of the New Orleans end zone as the Vikings regained the lead at 14-7.

New Orleans tied the score in the second period as Brees hit Devery Henderson for a nine-yard scoring toss, punctuating the seven-play, 64-yard march as the first half ended tied 14-14.

The Saints took their first lead of the game at 21-14 in the third period as Thomas blasted over right guard from nine yards out for the touchdown.

But Favre would take the air out of the Saints’ balloon shortly afterwards, driving his team 90 yards on nine plays and tying the game at 21-21 as Peterson scored from a yard away.

The Saint defense, which was magnificent on this evening, would set up the offense when tackle Remi Ayodele scooped up a Percy Harvin fumble at the Viking 12 and returned it seven yards to the five.

Brees would scramble out of the pocket to his right and find Reggie Bush, who then cradled the ball in his hands, twisting in for a score near the right pile-on.

Bush was initially ruled out of bounds, but official review overturned the call as Bush clearly breached the goal line for the score for the 28-21 Saint lead.

But another two-yard touchdown run by Peterson would tie the game at 28-28 moments later and set the stage for the wild finish of the final frame and then the thrilling, crowd-pleasing overtime period.

The Vikings piled up 31 first downs compared to just 15 for New Orleans, as the Saints’ offense was virtually non-existent in the second half against the rugged Minnesota defensive unit.

New Orleans will try to handle Peyton Manning and the AFC Champ Indianapolis Colts in two weeks, but for now, are relishing what many thought would never ever come - a spot in the Super Bowl!

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