Grading the game: NFC Championship

The Vikings may have outplayed the Saints in many aspects of the game, but big mistakes knocked their performance down to only average in many categories. Average doesn't get it done in the playoffs.

PASSING OFFENSE: C - Brett Favre completed 28 of 46 passes for 310 yards with a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions and one turned out to be a critical mistake. Favre's pass late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-15 play from the Saints 38 and the score tied at 28 was picked off by New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter. That enabled the Saints to run out the clock and head to overtime. If Favre doesn't make that miscue, the Vikings could have at least attempted a potential game-winning field goal by Ryan Longwell. Favre threw only seven interceptions on the season but the pass he tried to threat to Sidney Rice was remindful of so many other miscues he has made. Favre's favorite receiver turned out to be a surprise. Bernard Berrian, hampered for much of the season by hamstring injuries, caught nine passes for 102 yards. Berrian did not have a 100-yard receiving game during the regular season. Sidney Rice, the Vikings' leading receiver this season, caught four passes for only 43 yards but did have a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Adrian Peterson broke a drought of eight consecutive games without a 100-yard performance by rushing for 122 yards on 25 carries (a 4.9-yard average) and three touchdowns. So why the average grade for a running game that accumulated 165 yards on 36 attempts? Because Peterson fumbled twice, losing the ball once, and also failed to handle an exchange with Favre deep in Saints territory after the Vikings had recovered a muffed punt by Reggie Bush late in the second quarter. Favre was charged with the fumble, but blame could have gone either way. The Vikings started that drive at the New Orleans 10 and coughed it up from the Saints 4 with the score tied at 14. Peterson's numbers might have been impressive, but if your star running back can't hold onto the football you're not going to win. Peterson, by the way, finished the season with nine fumbles and seven lost.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus - This unit was up-and-down throughout Sunday's game and Drew Brees actually only completed 17 of 31 passes for 197 yards. However, he also had three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106.5 passer rating. Brees had luck picking apart the Vikings underneath, but for some reason the Saints did not seem to stick with that strategy on a consistent basis. Brees definitely took advantage in the overtime when cornerback Cedric Griffin suffered a knee injury and rookie Asher Allen had to come in at times to replace him. Brees went right at Allen as the Saints drove for the winning field goal. The Vikings were not happy about a pass interference call on linebacker Ben Leber that moved the ball from the Minnesota 41-yard line to the 29 and helped set up Garrett Hartley's winning kick. Leber was defending against Saints tight end David Thomas and drew the flag in part because he failed to turn around and find the ball. The Vikings contended that Brees' pass was not catchable.

RUSH DEFENSE: B - The Vikings continued to be solid in this area, giving up only 68 yards on 23 carries. Nose tackle Pat Williams and defensive tackle Kevin Williams both played hurt but were able to make it through the game and not give up any big running plays. The Saints' longest run was by Pierre Thomas and it went for only 12 yards. Reggie Bush finished with 8 yards on seven carries as the Vikings turned him into pretty much a non-factor.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C - The Vikings gave up a 61-yard kickoff return to Courtney Roby to open the third quarter, setting up one Saints touchdown and a 40-yarder to Thomas at the beginning overtime. That was in contrast to last season when the Vikings played New Orleans at the Superdome and Reggie Bush returned two punts, and almost a third, for a touchdown. This time Bush ended up with two fair catches and muffed a punt that the Vikings recovered. He finished with no return yards. Minnesota, obviously, would have liked its coverage unit on kicks to be that solid. The Vikings did not get much from their return game as Percy Harvin averaged 16.5 yards on two returns and Darius Reynaud averaged 5 yards on three punt returns. Saints kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead did a nice job against Harvin, getting three touchbacks.

COACHING: C - This grade is driven in large part by the 12-men on the field call that went against the Vikings late in the fourth quarter after Minnesota had used a timeout. The Vikings appeared to be driving to a winning field goal and had a third-and-10 at the New Orleans 33-yard line when the penalty was called. That put the Vikings at the Saints 38-yard line and on the next play Favre threw his crucial interception. Obviously, the coaching staff could not throw the ball for Favre but the fact that 12 players were on the field in such a crucial situation does have to be put squarely on the coaches. The Vikings' lack of discipline in being able to hold onto the ball (five turnovers) also falls partially on head coach Brad Childress and Co.

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