NEW ORLEANS – A 40-yard field goal in overtime by a little-known kicker could become as famous as jambalaya in these parts.
The New Orleans Saints, a team with no home and an uncertain future five years ago, are heading for their first Super Bowl. By battering Brett Favre and beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 Sunday, they set off celebrations on Bourbon Street that locals never could have imagined in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“This is for everybody in this city,” said coach Sean Payton, the architect of the Saints’ turnaround. “This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet. It’s not wet anymore. This is for the city of New Orleans.”
And it came courtesy of Garrett Hartley and the Aints – who surely ain’t the Aints anymore.
“In reality, we had to lean on each other in order to survive and in order to get where we are now,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways has come back better than ever. We’ve used the strength and resiliency of our fans to go out and play every Sunday and play with the confidence that we can do it, that we can achieve everything we’ve set out to achieve.”
Favre threw away Minnesota’s best chance to win, tossing an interception deep in New Orleans territory in the closing seconds of regulation. Then the Saints won the coin toss and ended it on Hartley’s kick 4:45 into OT.
“Just helping my team get to Miami,” he said. “Just doing my part.”
A team of nomads after Katrina ravaged its city and the Superdome, the Saints overcame a slew of mistakes in the biggest game the Big Easy has ever seen.
Forget the paper bag masks and that long history of losing that started in 1967. Moments after Hartley’s kick, they were toasting their hometown winners in the French Quarter and making plans for South Florida.
The Saints (15-3) will meet Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Miami. The Colts opened as 4-point favorites.
“Brett prepared us, but now we’ve got another challenge in Peyton,” safety Darren Sharper said.
And at the Superdome, once a squalid refuge after Katrina, they boogied in the aisles as confetti covered the field.
“It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for for a long time and obviously we’re not done yet,” said Brees, Payton’s hand-picked QB for the Saints’ renaissance.
It’s the first time the top seeds in each conference made the big game since the 1993 season.
There were nine fumbles and two interceptions, and the biggest mistake belonged to Favre. Flushed from the pocket in the final minute, he seemed to have room to run to set up a field goal. But hampered by a left leg injured in the third quarter, he threw cross-field and was intercepted by Tracy Porter at the 22.
That finished off Minnesota’s chance for its first Super Bowl trip in 33 years – and opportunity to win it for the first time after four defeats. The Vikings have lost their last five NFC title games.
“I’ve felt better,” said Favre, who looked every bit his 40 years. “It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”
New Orleans won the coin toss, Brees guided it to the Minnesota 22 after converting a fourth-and-1 on Pierre Thomas’ leap over the line, and Hartley – suspended at the start of the season for using a banned stimulant – split the uprights.
“It was as loud as I have ever heard it in the dome,” Brees added.
The seesaw game saw Adrian Peterson score three touchdowns for Minnesota and Saints running back Pierre Thomas get two. The Vikings handily won the possession and yardage battles, but were undone by five turnovers, including three fumbles.
“We really gave those guys the game,” said Peterson. “Too many turnovers. It’s eating me up inside.”
Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)
Min—Peterson 19 run (Longwell kick), 9:35.
NO—P.Thomas 38 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), 6:30.
Min—Rice 5 pass from Favre (Longwell kick), 2:11.
NO—Henderson 9 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), 10:30.
NO—P.Thomas 9 run (Hartley kick), 12:56.
Min—Peterson 1 run (Longwell kick), 7:35.
NO—Bush 5 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), 12:39.
Min—Peterson 2 run (Longwell kick), 4:58.
NO—FG Hartley 40, 10:15.
|Total Net Yards||475||257|
|Time of Possession||36:49||27:56|
RUSHING—Minnesota, Peterson 25-122, Taylor 6-28, Harvin 4-15, Favre 1-0. New Orleans, P.Thomas 14-61, Bush 7-8, Brees 1-0, Hamilton 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—Minnesota, Favre 28-46-2-310. New Orleans, Brees 17-31-0-197.
RECEIVING—Minnesota, Berrian 9-102, Harvin 5-38, Shiancoe 4-83, Rice 4-43, Taylor 3-18, Peterson 2-14, Kleinsasser 1-12. New Orleans, Henderson 4-39, D.Thomas 3-32, P.Thomas 2-38, Bush 2-33, Colston 2-22, Meachem 2-19, Shockey 1-9, Moore 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.