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(Sunday, January 24th)
Final Score: New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28 (OT)
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.
01/25 02:13:10 ET
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