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|New Orleans caputures NFC championship in OT; Saints Super Bowl bound|
New Orleans - Garrett Hartley hammered a 40-yard field goal through the uprights in overtime to send the New Orleans Saints to the NFC Conference title and a match-up with the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints won the contest, 31-28.
Hartley admitted after the game to two things: a sleepless night on Saturday, and a phone call to his father in Texas where he said he thought he'd hit a 42-yard field goal to win the game.
"I guess I was off by two yards," he said. "But I knew it as soon as it left my foot. I didn't even see it go through the upright because I turned to hug (holder) Mark (Brunell)."
The Vikings won the opening coin toss after calling heads. The Vikings elected to receive the opening kickoff while the Saints declared that they would defend the north end zone. Thomas Morstead thumped the opening kickoff into the end zone for a touchback. On first down from the 20 Brett Favre's first down pass intended for Visanthe Shiancoe was incomplete but Favre hit TE Jimmy Kleinsasser on second down for a gain of 12 yards. Favre then hit Percy Harvin on a quick screen for a gain of five yards and came back with a six-yard completion to Bernard Berrian for a gain of six yards and a first down. Favre and Harvin again connected, this time across the middle of the field for a nine yard gain, then Harvin took a handoff and picked up eight yards to the Saints' 40. Chester Taylor then caught a screen pass from Favre for a gain of four yards to the New Orleans 36. Favre then hit Adrian Peterson on a checkdown route that picked up 11 yards. Peterson's first handoff of the game picked up six yards on first down, and Peterson came back and bounced a carry off of left tackle for a 19-yard touchdown run that put the Vikings ahead 7-0 with 9:35 remaining in the first quarter.
Courtney Roby returned Ryan Longwell's kickoff 21 yards to the New Orleans 24. Drew Brees started the drive with a five-yard completion to WR Lance Moore but couldn't quite connect with WR Marques Colston on a deep second down attempt. Robert Meachem, though, converted the third down into a first down with a seven-yard catch and run on third down. Brees and Colston did connect on a 13-yard completion on first down and RB Pierre Thomas picked up eight-yards on the first down carry. DT Pat Williams jumped offside on second-and-short and the Saints moved five yards forward to the Minnesota 38. Brees and WR Devery Henderson couldn't connect on a sideline pass on, but Brees hit Pierre Thomas on a screen that the running back turned into a touchdown with huge blocks coming from Jahri Evans and TE David Thomas. The core was knotted at 7-7 just three minutes and five seconds after the Vikings had taken the lead.
Two incomplete passes by Favre began the Vikings second drive. DE Bobby McCray was flagged for being offsides and on third-and-five CB Randall Gay was flagged for a holding call that gave Minnesota a first down. McCray was docked 15 yards when he flattened Favre after an end-around and what appeared to be an attempted block on McCray. Favre and Berrian then connected for a gain of 15 yards and a first down. Peterson picked up three yards on a first down carry, with Favre throwing a second down incompletion. On third-and-eight from the New Orleans 20, Favre hit Harvin over the middle for a gain of 20 yards and a first down. Peterson then managed a yard, which was followed up by a two-yard pass to Harvin. A third down pass from Favre to Sidney Rice concluded the Vikings scoring drive, giving the visiting team a 14-7 lead after the 10-play, 73-yard drive that took 4:19 off of the clock.
The Saints were unable to pick up a first down on their second drive of the game and had to call on Morstead to come in and hit a 49-yard punt that was downed at the Minnesota 15 on the final play of the first quarter.
The Vikings tried two straight handoffs to Peterson that each picked up a pair of yards and on third-down and 16 from the Saints' 20, Favre was pressured into stepping up in the pocket and throwing the football away. P Chris Kluwe then hit a high 44-yard punt that was fair caught by Bush at the New Orleans 36.
The Saints started the drive with two incompletions in a row, but picked up a huge play when Brees found Bush over the middle of the field for a 28-yard gain. Pierre Thomas then picked up four quick yards on a handoff, followed by an 11-yard completion over the middle to TE David Thomas. Pierre Thomas then nearly went the distance, but was stopped for a gain of 12 yards. On the next play from the Minnesota 9, Brees bought time in the pocked and located a wide-open Devery Henderson in the corner of the end zone for the game tying score after Hartley's extra point.
Minnesota began at their own 20 and started with a six-yard completion from Favre to Harvin. On second down Favre and hit Peterson on a screen pass that picked up 11 yards. Favre then hit Rice on a quick slant for a gain of five yards, Peterson picked up five yards on a first down on a run. Favre hit Rice for a short gain of three yards, which was followed up by a three-yard carry by Peterson. On third-and-four from the Saints' 47 Favre tried to find Berrian crossing across the field but tight coverage by Gay forced the incomplete. Kluwe then hit a wobbly 29-yard punt that bounced out of bounds at the Saints' 18.
Brees tried to find Henderson on a screen pass on first down but the pass was incomplete. DT Kevin Williams was flagged for an offsides call on second and ten, giving the Saints five yards of free territory. Brees then hit David Thomas for a gain of four yards, with Thomas making a nice leaning reception. RB Lynell Hamilton tried to convert the third-and-one but was stopped for a one-yard loss by MLB Jasper Brinkley. Morstead boomed a 50-yard punt that was fair caught at the Vikings 24.
The Saints' defense, behind two big efforts by MLB Jonathan Vilma and Gay in pass coverage forced the Vikings to punt, with Kluwe hitting a 40-yard effort that was fair caught by Bush at the Saints' 33. The Saints had the favor of a three-and-out returned to them by the Vikings, despite an eight-yard completion from Brees to TE Jeremy Shockey on second down. A third down run by Bush witnessed Bush being stopped at the line of scrimmage by DE Ray Edwards. The Saints tried to get the Vikings to jump offsides, but instead allowed the clock to tick down to the two-minute warning. Morstead hit a 46-yard punt that was called for a fair catch by Darius Reynaud, although Reynaud dropped the ball and after he picked it up was decked by LB Jonathan Casillas, which drew a personal foul penalty and 15 yards.
Favre's first down pass was incomplete, followed by a one-yard run by Peterson. Favre converted a third-and-long as he hung in the pocket in the face of heavy pressure, delivering a strike to Berrian for 13 yards. Favre and Rice were unable to convert on first down and Peterson was stopped for a short gain on third down. S Darren Sharper powered Berrian to the ground and forced an incompletion, which brought on Kluwe, who hit a 39 yard punt that Bush tried to field at the Saints' 14. Bush muffed the punt, which was recovered by LB Kenny Onatolu at the Saints' 10.
Peterson, on first down, picked up six yards to the Saints' four. On second down out of a power-I formation Favre hit Peterson in the arm with a handoff and the loose ball fell to the ground, where LB Scott Fujita scampered in and fell on the loose ball at the 10.
The Saints, escaping with the ball and less than a minute to go in the game, ran two handoffs and headed into the locker room.
The Saints started the second half in electrifying fashion, as Roby broke several tackles and managed to return the kickoff 61 yards to the Vikings 37. It was the longest Saints kickoff return in team postseason history. Brees then hit David Thomas over the middle for a gain of 17 yards, with Thomas absorbing a huge hit and hanging onto the ball. Then it was Pierre Thomas' turn, ripping off runs of six yards, four yards and finishing the drive with a powerful nine-yard touchdown run, giving the Saints their first lead of the afternoon, 21-14, following Hartley's extra point. Thomas joined Deuce McAllister as the only players in team history to have a rushing and receiving score in the same game, with McAllister's coming in the NFC Divisional Playoff Round in 2006 against Philadelphia.
Starting at their own 20 Favre hit Rice on the first play from scrimmage for a gain of 13. Peterson then added a yard, coupled with a 26-yard completion to Shiancoe on second down. Peterson lost a fumble that was nearly recovered by Scott Shanle, but instead was fallen on by a Vikings offensive lineman. Favre, though, made up the entire yardage right back with a 20-yard completion to Shiancoe. Favre and Harvin then added five yards via a completion, and Chester Taylor added three yards on a second and five. On a third-and-two Favre lofted a pass into the corner of the field to Shiancoe for a gain of 21 yards. On the next play Peterson found his way into the end zone for a score that knotted the game at 21-21.
The Saints, though, went three downs and out on their next series of downs. Morstead came in and hammered a 63-yard punt that was fielded by Reynaud at his goal line and returned to the Minnesota 10 before Fujita tackled him. Peterson picked up seven yards on a first down carry. On second down Peterson found a hole but fumbled the ball when Roman Harper popped it loose. Peterson, somehow, was able to recover his own fumble, though. Taylor then picked up six yards and the Saints appeared to have Vikings stopped on a third-and-four from the 38, but DT Anthony Hargrove was hit with a roughing the passer penalty that cost the Saints 15 yards. Minnesota was able to get another first down, but the Vikings were victimized when heavy pressure on Favre caused him to throw a pass across the middle of the field, which LB Jonathan Vilma intercepted. On the play Favre was hit by McCray and needed assistance in getting off of the field.
The Saints couldn't pick up a first down, though, and were forced to punt, with Morstead hitting a 50-yard effort that was fair caught at the Minnesota 17.
Harvin picked up 10 yards on first down, although he nearly coughed up the ball. Harvin then was trapped by Will Smith, who knocked the ball loose from Harvin and the rolling football was finally recovered by the Saints Remy Ayodele at the Minnesota 7.
Pierre Thomas picked up four yards on first down, but was stopped on second down for a loss of two yards. On third down Brees scrambled and hit Bush in the corner, although it was ruled he was out of bounds inside the one by the officials. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton threw the challenge flag, maintaining that Bush was able to get the ball over the goal line. After the challenge the Saints were awarded the touchdown and led 28-21 with 12:39 left in the game.
After a Morstead touchback Taylor started the drive with a three-yard carry. Peterson then got free and galloped 29 yards down the sideline. CB Jabari Greer nearly intercepted Favre on a pass intended for Rice, but the pass hit Greer in the shoulder pads and bounced away. A second down pass was incomplete but Favre was able to hit Berrian for a 30-yard gain on a third down. Peterson then picked up two yards, but on second down his eight-yard completion to Berrian came loose when CB Tracy Porter poked it free and Vilma dove on the loose ball.
Thomas added four yards on a first down carry, followed by a six-yard pass to Henderson. Brees had trouble with the snap on third down, but appeared to get the ball aback and dive forward near the first down marker. Payton thought it was close enough to challenge, a challenge the team lost and the Saints were charged with a timeout.
Morstead hit a 43-yard punt that was not returned and the Vikings took over at their own 43 with 7:57 left. Minnesota converted a third-and-eight when Favre hit Shiancoe for a gain of 16 yards. Two plays later Peterson picked up 18 yards on a carry to the Saints 19, on the next play Porter was flagged for interfering with Berrian in the end zone and the ball was moved to one. Two plays later Peterson scored on a one-yard run that knotted the game at 28-28.
The Saints were victimized when Brees fumbled on first down for a loss of eight yards and couldn't manage a first down despite a 15-yard grab by Henderson on third down. Morstead's 58-yard punt to the 21 pushed the Vikings back into their own territory. McCray stopped Peterson for a no yards on first down as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. Peterson was then stopped after a gain of two yards on second down. On third down Favre hit Berrian in the flat and he shook from a tackle and picked up the first down. On the ensuing play Favre hit Rice on a seam route for a gain of 20 yards, then Taylor picked up 14 yards to the New Orleans 33. Taylor and Peterson were both stopped at the Saints' 33, and Minnesota was hit with a 12 men in the huddle call with :19 left that pushed the ball back to the 38. On the next play Tracy Porter intercepted Favre and returned the ball Saints' 48 with :07 left.
Brees' pass was knocked down by Kevin Williams on first down and threw the ball away on the final play of regulation.
The Saints won the coin toss in overtime and elected to receive. Pierre Thomas found a crease and dashed 40-yards to the Saints' 39. Thomas then picked up three yards on a first down carry, followed by a one-yard run by Bush. Brees tried to hit Colston over the middle but Vikings CB Asher Allen was called for a holding call that awarded the Saints a first down. Incompletions on first and second down brought on a third-and-ten, with Henderson reeling in a nine-yard pass from Brees to the Vikings' 43. The officials called timeout to review the play on instant replay to make sure the spot of the ball was properly marked, which the referee said was the case. The Saints elected to bring the offense on the field on fourth down and Pierre Thomas leaped over the middle for a gain of two yards and a first down. Vikings LB Ben Leber was then hit was a pass interference call when he got tied up with David Thomas and Saints moved forward 12 yards to the 34. Brees then hit a sliding Robert Meachem over the middle of the field for a gain of 12 yards to the 22.A third down pass was incomplete.
Hartley trotted out to attempt a 40-yard field goal with 10:19 left in the first overtime period. The Vikings called a time out but when the whistle blew to restart the clock, the snap, hold and kick were perfect, with Hartley sending a 40-yarder through the uprights and the Saints to the Super Bowl.
Inactive Players for the Saints: QB Chase Daniel (third QB), CB Malcolm Jenkins, LB Anthony Waters, G Jamar Nesbit, TE Darnell Dinkins, TE Tory Humphrey, WR Adrian Arrington and DE Paul Spicer.
Inactive Players for the Vikings: QB Sage Rosenfels (third QB), WR Jaymar Johnson, RB Albert Young, CB Karl Paymah, TE Garrett Mills, LB J Leman, C Jon Cooper and DT Letroy Guion.
The Captains for the Saints were: QB Drew Brees, S Darren Sharper, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Troy Evans, DE Will Smith. The Honorary Captain is Deuce McAllister (reserve/retired list).
Presidential Welcome: George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America (1989-1993), was warmly greeted by the Saints' crowd before the game after public address announcer Jerry Romig introduced his arrival. President Bush was introduced to the crowd and shared a handshake and hug from Saints Owner Tom Benson…other celebrities spotted on the Saints' sideline before the game included singer Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, previous Saints Owner John Mecom, Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and Hall of Fame finalist Cortez Kennedy.
(Report courtesy neworleanssaints.com)