Saints Defense Seals The Victory

The Saints did what they do best, scored points on Sunday, but their defense was the real hero. Combined with gaffes by the Vikings offense, New Orleans was able to capitalize on key turnovers to secure their first ever Super Bowl appearance.

The Saints appeared to be on the verge of coughing up a seven-point fourth-quarter lead against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night when they did what they did best this season: they finished the game.

The Saints, who lost several heartbreakers in 2008, watched the Vikings tie it with 4:58 to play on Adrian Peterson's 2-yard touchdown run and then had to get an interception from cornerback Tracy Porter to prevent the Vikings from winning on a late field goal.

From there, the Saints finished the job as they marched 39 yards to a 40-yard game-winning field goal by second-year pro Garrett Hartley to take a 31-28 win and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

The Saints, who were one of five teams to have never played in the Super Bowl, will play the Indianapolis Colts in Miami on Feb. 7 in Super Bowl XLIV.

Until Porter's interception, however, the Saints (15-3) looked like they would add another loss to a series of letdowns for the team's fans over the years. But this team proved again that it's not like any of their predecessors.

Instead of folding, they held on, thanks to Porter's interception off Brett Favre, and found a way to win in overtime, thanks to Hartley.

"I just knew that whenever the ball came off my foot it was going to split the pipes," Hartley said. "I just turned around and put my hands up in the air and hugged (holder Mark) Brunell just knowing this team is heading to Miami now."

The interception of Favre by Porter was another example of how far the Saints have come this season after finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs a year ago. The takeaway was their fifth of the night for the Saints, who led the NFL with 39 in the regular season.

"We knew that (Favre) liked to scramble, and he's a guy that can throw across his body," Porter said. "I did happen to read his eyes. He was looking at Rice the whole time and I just happened to make a play on the ball."

NOTES

  • --While Saints coach Sean Payton won an NFC Championship Game as an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants in 2000, he was able to appreciate what it means as a head coach Sunday night.

    Shortly after the Saints' thrilling 31-28 overtime win against the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome, Payton experienced the emotions that come with advancing to the Super Bowl.

    "There was just so much emotion," Payton said. "When you finish with the locker room aspect, you just try to find your family. My son's (9-year-old Connor) concern was the confetti was going to keep us from being able to play catch on the field. That was his concern.

    "It was just good to hug them, and to be around the family and enjoy the time," he added. "There never seems to be enough of it. When you're able to get a win like that and you have the people closest to you be a part of it, and so many of us had family in and friends in, it makes it really special."

  • --The Saints' return game played a major role in the win against the Vikings, just as it did in a 45-14 romp against the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoffs one week earlier.

    After Reggie Bush brought a punt back 87 yards for a touchdown to break the Cardinals' backs, Courtney Roby and Pierre Thomas came up big on kickoff returns in the second half Sunday night.

    Roby raced 61 yards with the second-half kickoff to set up Thomas' 9-yard touchdown run as the Saints snapped a 14-14 halftime tie. Then, Thomas stepped in after Roby left with a knee injury late in the game and returned the overtime kickoff 40 yards to his own 39 to give Drew Brees a nice starting point for the game-winning drive.

  • --Speaking of special teams, rookie punter Thomas Morstead had a big day against the Vikings.

    Morstead, who was twice named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in the regular season, would have been a candidate this week if the league gave out the award in the postseason.

    A fifth-round draft pick, Morstead punted seven times for a 51.3-yard gross average with a long of 63 yards. He dropped four kicks inside the 20, helping him finish the game with a 49.1 net average.

    Morstead also kicked off five times with three of his booming kicks going for touchbacks.

  • --The Saints put hit after hit on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in making him as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket Sunday night.

    Favre even left the game briefly when he injured his left ankle in the third quarter when he was hit with a high-low tackle by defensive tackle Remi Ayodele and defensive end Bobby McCray.

    Favre returned, however, and finished the game without missing a snap. That certainly impressed Ayodele, a three-year veteran who was playing against the future Hall of Famer for the first time.

    "He's a tough guy, he kept coming back," Ayodele said. "I don't know if he feels 40, but we won. He won't go down, man, he's a legend. It was amazing to see him get up and actually come back into the game. He kept fighting, and that was cool to see."

  • --The Saints' honorary captain for Sunday's game was former running back Deuce McAllister, who officially retired earlier in the week.

    McAllister presented the George S. Halas Trophy, symbolic of the NFC championship, to Saints owner Tom Benson during the postgame ceremony.

  • --Among the numerous dignitaries and celebrities spotted on the Saints sideline before the game were former President George H.W. Bush, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, original Saints owner John W. Mecom Jr., singer Jimmy Buffett and former Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson.

    Jackson is one of 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010, which will be voted on the day before Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.

  • --The crowd of 71,276 for the Sunday night's game was the largest to see a Saints game in the Superdome, which opened in 1975.

    That broke the mark of 70,940, which was set in the 1979 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

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