It's going to take a while for the football world to catch its collective breath after the roller-coaster ride of the NFC championship game, and that thriller will be one for the record books. Let's take a closer look at the Saints' 31-28 overtime victory against the Vikings.
With the two powerful offenses, the Saints and Colts should have a highly entertaining Super Bowl showdown, but the Saints will have to play much better than they did Sunday in the NFC title game. New Orleans was sloppy, and its offense looked vulnerable in the second half when the Vikings created better pressure at the line, which is something the Colts are very capable of doing, too. Then, in overtime, the Saints looked especially nervous. Drew Brees looked a little off and his wide receivers had trouble catching passes.
These are some mistakes that the Colts will certainly exploit, and there's no way Indy will do a lousy job of protecting the ball like Minnesota did. New Orleans has two weeks to prepare for Peyton Manning, for sure, but the Saints really have to make sure they get themselves ready to play a better brand of football.
The Vikings got the great Brett Favre for the first 600 throws of his Minnesota career, but they got the bad Brett Favre in his 601st. It might be a little while before we know whether or not that will be the last toss of his professional football life.
Favre was outstanding for 59 minutes against the Saints, keeping his team alive when they were self-destructing with six fumbles, and he drove the Vikings down the field to get them into position for a game-winning field goal. But a penalty for too many men in the huddle backed them up to the New Orleans 38-yard line, and Minnesota's plan was altered — instead of just running out the clock before the kick, they'd have to gain some of the yardage back.
Favre rolled to his right and had an open running lane, and he would have been able to gain enough yards to get kicker Ryan Longwell within 50 yards. Instead, though, Favre threw to the left — across his body — into double coverage, and Tracy Porter hauled in the interception of his career. (It was some serious vindication for Porter, who missed a third-down tackle earlier in the drive that would have forced a Vikings punt.)
The Vikings never got the ball back, and Favre now has a tough decision to make. He fought through a terrible pounding in the game and appeared to injure both his ribs and left ankle on the same third-quarter drive.
It would have been easy for Favre to leave the game if he won his second Super Bowl, but this won't be an easy way for him to go out. This guy needs to come back for another year because — as he proved so many times in 2009 — he can still sling it.
As the Colts proved earlier in the day, a score before the half can go a long way toward helping you to victory. Well, a couple of stars ruined their teams' chances in the Saints-Vikings matchup. Reggie Bush, who returned a punt for a touchdown in the Saints' playoff win against the Cardinals, muffed a punt with a minute and a half to go before the break. The Saints were gearing up for a late run at a score and had two timeouts at their disposal before Bush coughed away a prime opportunity.
Two plays later, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned the favor. Peterson, who makes Laurence Maroney's fumbling woes look like child's play, had seven fumbles in the regular season, and he couldn't control the hand-off from Favre. Minnesota's miscue was more costly, as it lost a chance to capitalize inside the Saints' 10-yard line.
Bush and Peterson have been significant reasons for their teams' successes, but the star backs put their squads in a bind before halftime. Little did we know, but that back-and-forth started a fumbling epidemic that might forever live in infamy.
The Saints and Vikings went to a football stadium, and a game of "Hot Potato" broke out, and I was reminded of a famous creed from one of the great movies of all-time, Full Metal Jacket. Here it is, with a twist:
"This is my football. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My football is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my football is useless. Without my football, I am useless."
Come on, guys. You're trying to get to the Super Bowl. Treat that ball with a little respect.