Despite dominating the game statistically in the NFC Championship Game, the only numbers that mattered were 31-28 and five - the final score and the number of Vikings turnovers. Plus, get more than two dozen notes that help tell the tale of the loss.
It is difficult to ever lose a playoff game, but how the Vikings lost the NFC Championship was more than slightly hard to handle.
There were tears in the locker room. Brett Favre
hugged Adrian Peterson
and Percy Harvin
in what potentially had the look of a last ride for the old gunslinger. Despite having the type of performance that could have and possibly should have won the game, it fell short thanks to six fumbles, five turnovers and lost chances.
Perhaps the biggest frustration was that the focus was on dealing with the noise at the Superdome, but bigger than that was the problems that weren't crowd-inflicted, but self-inflicted.
"We talked all week long about how noisy it was going to be and focusing on snap counts and try to eliminate penalties and false starts and communication," guard Steve Hutchinson
said. "For us to move the ball as we did and not have any procedural penalties, turnovers kill you, especially on the road. In a place like this and the severity of a championship game, you can't turn the ball over – and certainly not on the road."
GAME NIGHT NOTES
The Vikings almost doubled the Saints in yardage. The Vikings gained 475 yards (310 passing, 165 rushing), while the Saints had just 257 yards (189 passing, 68 rushing).
The Vikings were seven of 12 converting third downs, while the Saints were just three of 12.
There wasn't a field goal attempt in the game until Garrett Hartley's game-winner in overtime.
Adrian Peterson had his first 100-yard rushing game in nine outings, rushing 25 times for 122 yards, and Bernard Berrian's 102 receiving yards represented his first 100-yard game of the season.
No Saint had more than 39 yards receiving.
Brett Favre spent the final two minutes of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter playing with a sprained ankle suffered on a low hit from defensive end Bobby McCray.
After not catching a pass in the first half Visanthe Shiancoe caught three passes for 64 yards in the Vikings' scoring drive to tie the game at 21-21.
The Saints had one of the biggest plays of the game on the opening kickoff of the second half. Courtney Roby found a seam after appearing to be bottled up on the left side of the field. He changed direction and returned the kick 61 yards, eventually leading to a Saints touchdown that gave them their first lead of the game at 21-14.
The Vikings had a time-of-possession edge of 17:37 to 12:23 in the first half. The Vikes outgained the Saints 189-161. The Vikings had 127 yards passing and 62 yards rushing, while the Saints had 133 yards passing and 28 yards rushing. The Vikings had just two penalties for 10 yards in the half, while the Saints were flagged five times for 45 yards.
Favre completed 15 of 26 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 83.3 in the first half. Peterson had 11 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Five Vikings had two or more catches, led by Berrian with four for 43 and Harvin with four for 33. For the Saints, Brees completed 10 of 16 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Colston led the way with two catches for 22 yards and Pierre Thomas had four carries for 23 yards.
The Vikings blew a golden opportunity to take a lead into halftime. With the game tied 14-14 with less than two minutes to go in the half, the Vikings punted to the Saints and Bush was drilled by Eric Frampton as the ball arrived, giving the Vikings the ball on the Saints 10-yard line. Two plays later from the 4-yard line, Favre tried to hand off to Peterson, but Favre was credited with the fumble. The Saints recovered and, instead of having a sure lead at the half, the Vikings and Saints remained tied at 14-14.
Three first-year Vikings made some big contributions in the first half. Safety Jamarca Sanford shared time with starter Tyrell Johnson before injuring his groin. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley made a big stop on a third-and-1 play for the Saints to kill a drive and special teamer Kenny Onatolu recovered the Bush fumble.
The Saints' big-play offense was on display on their first drive of the second quarter. Faced with a third-and-10 from his own 36, Brees completed a 28-yard pass to Bush to get into Vikings territory. After an 11-yard pass to David Thomas and a 12-yard run by Pierre Thomas, Brees capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Henderson.
The Vikings dominated the first-quarter stats, as both teams marched the ball up and down the field. The Vikings had 128 total yards (89 passing, 39 rushing), while the Saints had 80 yards (72 passing, 8 rushing). The Vikings held the ball for 9:44 of the first quarter and converted both of their third-down opportunities. The Saints were one of two on third downs. The Vikings had 10 first downs in the quarter, while the Saints had four.
Individually, Favre completed 10 of 14 passes for 89 yards. Peterson had four carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Six different receivers caught passes, led by Berrian with three for 30 yards, Harvin with three for 27 yards and Rice scoring the 5-yard touchdown. Brees completed five of seven passes for 72 yards, led by Colston with two catches for 22 yards and Pierre Thomas with one catch 38 yards. Thomas had two rushes for seven yards to lead the Saints.
Favre was knocked down four times in the first quarter, including a pair of massive hits by Darren Sharper and Bobby McCray.
The Saints tried some serious trickery on their second drive. The team called a double reverse that took a long time develop. Reggie Bush was able to avoid a big loss on the play, but the Vikings tracked him down for just a one-yard gain – nowhere close to what the Saints envisioned when they drew up the play.
The Vikings put together their second 10-play drive of the first quarter to take a 14-7 lead with 2:11 to play. The drive was kept alive by penalties on the Saints. Favre was off target on his first four passes of the drive, but an offside penalty kept the drive going after it appeared to be a three-and-out and, on the next play, a defensive holding call on Randall Gay covering Percy Harvin gave the Vikings a first down. Two plays later, McCray, who was called for the offside penalty, was flagged for a personal foul with a big hit on Favre that moved the ball to the Saints 31-yard line. Six plays later Favre found Rice for a five-yard touchdown to give the Vikings the 14-7 lead.
When Rice scored his touchdown, he did the "Sharper Shake" – a dance originated by former Viking Darren Sharper, now with the Saints.
The Saints came out passing on their first drive of the game, as Brees completed four of six passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. He completed passes to four different receivers – Lance Moore, Meachem, Colston and Thomas – the last being a well-designed screen that was sprung for a 38-yard touchdown.
The touchdown catch by Thomas was the longest of his career.
The Vikings were expected to come out running early, but it was Favre's show. He threw passes on the first six plays of the game and, after throwing an incompletion on his first pass, Favre completed his next six passes to five different receivers – Jim Kleinsasser, Harvin, Berrian, Chester Taylor and Peterson. Of the first eight plays, the only run was an 8-yard burst by Harvin. Once in scoring range, the Vikings' ground game took over, as Peterson had carries of six and 19 yards to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive that elapsed 5:25 off the game clock.
On the opening drive, the Vikings never faced a third-down situation, converting on second down four times before Peterson scored on a second-down run of 19 yards for the game's first score.
It was a good day for celebrity watching Sunday. Among the luminaries making their way to suites included former President George H.W. Bush, political strategist James Carville and actress Marlee Matlin.
Hall of Fame Vikings head coach Bud Grant was the honorary captain for Sunday's game. The Saints' honorary captain was running back Deuce McAllister.
The paid attendance was 71,276 – the largest crowd to ever see a Saints game at the Superdome.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.