Victory sends Saints to Super Bowl XLIV
The air was full of tension as Brad Childress called the Vikings’ final timeout in an attempt to further freeze Saints kicker Garrett Hartley. The Superdome fans held their collective breath in nervous anticipation. The Saints were one play away from the beautiful beaches of Miami and their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. A shiver ran through the crowd as Hartley set up for the game’s only field goal attempt — a 40-yard try. He booted it right down the middle; the Who Dat Nation exploded. The party that followed flowed from the dome and its surrounding areas, surging into every street of downtown New Orleans. It did not stop until several hours after the final score was recorded: Saints 31, Vikings 28.
In their fight to redeem a fallen team and a fallen city, the Saints once again came marching right on in. Brees added another stellar performance to his already impressive résumé, throwing for three touchdowns while committing zero turnovers. Reggie Bush was less of a factor in this week’s game than during the divisional matchup against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Though he pulled in a crucial touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, he recorded only eight yards on seven rushing attempts. His explosiveness will be vital against an Indianapolis Colts team that thrives by regulating the tempo.
The matchup between the Saints and Vikings was an offensive affair. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson broke out multiple long runs, rushing for 100 yards for the first time since the Vikings’ Week 10 matchup against Detroit. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre played well, passing for more than 300 yards, but threw another one of his now-trademark fourth-quarter interceptions to keep the Saints in it, ultimately sending the game to overtime. The Vikings never got the ball back. Running back Pierre Thomas got the Saints off to a hot start in overtime, returning the opening kickoff to the Saints’ 40-yard line. A total of 12 plays — along with a few crucial Minnesota penalties — set Hartley up for the game-winner.
Another disappointing finish for Favre leaves his future in question. The Saints, on the other hand, hold their fate with a firm grasp. New Orleans’ offensive line came up big, giving up only a single sack to the Vikings’ vaunted pass rush. To do well in Miami, they must play with the same intensity against the Colts’ vicious pair of defensive ends — Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints’ defense must play with the same intensity that they showed against Minnesota to have any chance of slowing quarterback Peyton Manning’s relentlessly efficient offense. Manning had another stellar game in the AFC Championship, completing logic-defying passes against the New York Jets’ shutdown defense. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safety Darren Sharper must not allow Colts’ running back Joseph Addai to take advantage of the overabundance of defensive backs that will result from Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ emphasis on Manning. By keeping pressure on Manning and cutting off the Colts’ running attack that had been allowed to thrive last week, the Saints will be able to throw off Indy’s offensive flow.
The anticipation for the big game has yielded several appropriate headlines, including the native New Orleanian Manning versus his hometown team, as well as his battle to solidify himself among the ranks of the top quarterbacks ever to play the game. For Brees and the Saints, however, the storyline is a bit more substantive. If they can overcome this final obstacle, it would have an impact beyond the game of football, helping an entire city regain its pride.