The season is over, but your New Orleans Saints gave it their all. Still, in what was another roller-coaster of a game with plenty of ups and downs along the way, here are a couple that stood out.
Up: Marcus Williams
Let’s get this one out of the way early: Yes, Marcus Williams missed coverage and a tackle on what should have sealed a trip to the Conference Championship Game for the New Orleans Saints. But lost in that is the fact that his athletic play on a ball for a key interception set up the Saints to make the game competitive in the first place. The 21 year old rookie was playing in his first divisional and road playoff game of his young career, and he handled the entire aftermath with more poise and dignity than can be said for some NFC South quarterbacks.
Sean Payton is aggressive, that’s never been in doubt. But his questionable decision to make two ill-advised challenges cost his team timeouts that could have been helpful later in the game. You can make the argument for either challenge in a vacuum possibly, but to lose two timeouts when you knew your team was down on the scoreboard was brutal. The entire final drive for the Saints could have been different, leading to (ideally) no time on the clock for Minnesota had the Saints had the luxury of additional timeouts to work the middle of the field.
Drew Brees came out shaky. Michael Thomas was nowhere to be seen on the Saints first two drives. Willie Snead had had a forgettable contract year for New Orleans. There was basically no pass-rush on Case Keenum the entire first half of the game. But when it came time to make plays, this team showed a lot of heart and resiliency. Drew Brees threw darts in tight windows to help march his team down the field. Thomas was physical on routes and found ways to get open. Snead, after over-throwing on a trick play earlier in the game, caught a big fourth down pass with the game on the line. The Saints injured defensive front was able to get in Keenum’s face late in the game. This team had zero quit in them.
Down: But it’s all for nothing...
And even moreso than the 2011 NFC Championship Game, this one hurts. This game felt practically won for New Orleans, only to have it ripped away in heartache. This was without a doubt the greatest game I will never want to watch again, and it will be one that Vikings fans cherish for years to come. Congratulations to Minnesota as they try for their first Super Bowl victory, but you better watch out next year: New Orleans will be healthy, angry, and ready to bring back the Lombardi to New Orleans.