December doldrums didn't hurt Saints, Vikings

Both the Vikings and Saints got off to strong starts early in the season and stumbled late, but that didn't affect their ability to put on big performance in the NFC divisional playoffs. The Vikings got the attention of the Saints with their win Sunday.

It turns out the two teams that wobbled late in the season are going to the NFC Championship Game after all.

The Saints punched their ticket Saturday with a 45-14 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals in the first NFC divisional playoff game, then sat back and waited to see who they'd face in the title game in the Superdome.

A little less than 24 hours later, the Saints (14-3) learned they would take on the Minnesota Vikings (13-4) after the Vikings' 34-3 bouncing of the Dallas Cowboys.

For the second time in four seasons, the Saints will be seeking their first visit to the Super Bowl.

Both the Saints and the Vikings stumbled near the end of the regular season. But both turned it on in the postseason, making short work of the third- and fourth-seeded teams to set up a showdown of the top two seeds.

The Saints, who dropped a 39-14 decision to the Chicago Bears in the 2006 NFC title game, are certainly excited about the opportunity to get to the Super Bowl for the first time.

On Sunday morning, when they went to work to review the game tapes, the Saints still didn't know who they would face. But later in the day, the Vikings already had their attention.

Privately, the Saints may have wanted to play the Cowboys. After all, the Cowboys ended their hopes of a perfect regular season Dec. 19 with a 24-17 win over the Saints.

But they knew they're facing a stiff challenge in the Vikings, just as they would have had they gotten another shot at the Cowboys.

"You've got Brett Favre and you've got Adrian Peterson; you've got wide receivers everywhere," strong safety Roman Harper said. "You know what they've got.

"They've got a great offensive line. They've got weapons and they're going to run the ball ... and they're going to be able to throw it off the run. Brett Favre is Brett Favre."

"Minnesota finished the season with that big lopsided victory at home against New York," Drew Brees said of the Vikings' 4407 belting of the Giants in the regular-season finale. "They're playing well."

Because the Vikings righted their ship against the Giants and then ripped the Cowboys after a bye week, and the Saints came back strong after closing the regular season with three consecutive losses, both teams will take some momentum into the title game.

The end-of-the-season blues won't mean a thing when they line up Sunday.

"When you're this deep into the season, you're going to face the best of the best," tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "You don't get to this point without being a solid group."

TRENDING: After losing their first three playoff games in the Superdome, the Saints have won three in a row after their 45-14 beating of the Arizona Cardinals. The Saints, who'll host the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game on Sunday, have won a wild-card game and two divisional playoff games in the Superdome since 2000.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11-6 — The record of NFC No. 1 seeds in the conference's championship game dating back to the 1990 season when the playoff field was expanded to six teams from each conference. Only six of those 11 winners have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

NOTES

  • TE Jeremy Shockey, who missed three games with an injured toe, hobbled off the field a couple of times with a toe or lower leg injury and did not play late in Saturday's game with the Arizona Cardinals.

  • WR Robert Meachem appeared to have injured his ankle Saturday against the Cardinals and his status for the NFC Championship Game was not known.

  • RB Pierre Thomas, who didn't play in the regular-season finale because of three cracked ribs, returned for his team's win against the Cardinals and appeared to have no medical setbacks.

  • WLB Scott Shanle was held out of the last two regular-season games because of a concussion but played the entire game Saturday.

  • LDE Bobby McCray, who has battled a back problem all season, started in place of the injured Charles Grant in the divisional playoff game.

  • WR Lance Moore missed the final two regular-season games with a sprained ankle but was able to return against the Cardinals.

  • CB Malcolm Jenkins was able to play in the divisional playoff game despite a mild hamstring strain and played mostly on special teams.

  • FS Usama Young, who had surgery for a sports hernia in December, returned to the field against the Cardinals.


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