Following the “Minneapolis Miracle” of two years ago, and last year’s controversial ending to the NFC championship game, the New Orleans Saints looked to make another hard-charging run at the Super Bowl, led by one of the all-time great quarterbacks, Drew Brees.
Conversely, the Minnesota Vikings were back in the playoffs for the second time in three years, hungry again for another playoff push. After a mediocre season by many peoples’ standards, they were the underdogs in this fight.
Key Factors Before the Game
The Saints held the advantage in both point differential (+117) and turnover differential (+15) compared to the Vikings’ stats in those categories, +104 and +11, respectively.
The Vikings, however, did reign superior in two categories that ended up proving themselves to be deciding factors in today’s game: rushing yards per game (133.3) and third-down conversion rate (42.8 percent). The Saints in these categories were 108.6 rushing yards per game and 42.2 percent on third-down conversions.
(All stats courtesy of usatoday.com)
First Half Recap
The game started in an unfamiliar fashion for the Vikings: an Adam Thielen fumble on the first drive. Prior to this, he hadn’t fumbled all year. Vonn Bell recovered and returned the ball for very good field position for the Saints.
The Saints couldn’t capitalize on this though, as Drew Brees was sacked on third-and-goal. This was no surprise, however, as Minnesota has had a top-three red zone defense for the last three years. Wil Lutz hit a 29-yard field goal for the first points of the game at 9:52 in the first quarter.
Dan Bailey returned the favor for the Vikings with 4:05 to go in the first quarter, tying the game at 3-3 with a 43-yard field goal.
There was a change of pace in the second quarter, as the first touchdown from either team was set up by a 50-yard pass from Taysom Hill to Deonte Harris, putting the Saints at the 4-yard line. Alvin Kamara ran it in on the next play for the first touchdown.
Dan Bailey hit his second field goal of the day, this time from 21-yards out, 2:54 left in the half.
On the following possession, Drew Brees threw the game’s only interception at the 2:03 mark.
The Vikings marched down the field to score their first touchdown, a run from Dalvin Cook with 23 seconds left.
The Saints responded and marched down the field themselves, but Wil Lutz missed a 43-yard field goal the half ended to tie it up.
It was 13-10 going into the half, the Vikings on top.
Second Half and Overtime Recap
The second half started off in a defensive battle. Only one score happened in the entire third quarter, a one-yard run by Dalvin Cook. This put Minnesota up 20-10. This was set up by a big conversion on 3rd-and-9 by Adam Thielen.
The Saints were the first to score in the fourth quarter on a 20-yard pass from Drew Brees to Taysom Hill at the 10-31 mark. After Lutz’s successful extra point, the score was 20-17, Vikings.
After more back-and-forth football through most of the fourth quarter, Drew Brees was sacked and fumbled the ball with 4:18 to go.
Minnesota failed to take advantage of this turnover. They almost turned the ball over themselves, as Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball and New Orleans returned it for a touchdown before it was reviewed by the officials and he was ruled down by contact.
The New Orleans defense made a late-game stop by sacking Kirk Cousins on a 3rd-and-19. Minnesota punted.
Wil Lutz tied the game at 20 with two seconds left on the clock by hitting a 49-yard field goal.
The Vikings won the coin toss for overtime and elected to receive the kick.
Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen deep for a 43-yard pass to put the Vikings at the 2-yard line.
Dalvin Cook tried twice to score, gaining one yard on the first play and losing three on the next. Kirk Cousins identified single coverage on Kyle Rudolph and capitalized on this mismatch by throwing a game-winning touchdown in the left corner of the end zone for a final score of 26-20.
Featured image courtesy of startribune.com.
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