How do your fingernails look this morning? Personally, I spent some quiet moments after last night's gut-wrenching Viking loss deliberating if I should pen this article, or leap from my sixth floor window with my hair on fire while pounding the remnants of a bottle of absinthe. Obviously, I opted for the former.
While driving home after the game late last night, I stopped at a Holiday station. Ahead of me in line was an older gent draped in Vikings paraphernalia. He turned around to me and we just looked at one another and shook our heads. I paid for my purchase and walked into the night thinking the silent exchange must have played itself out many thousands of times over at gas stations and bars and restaurants from here to Sioux Falls to Fargo to Des Moines. I passed the Purple fella while en route to my car, and before getting into his Jeep he looked about the streets before us and said:
"It's winter now."
Despite a near-comical six fumbles (3 of which were lost) and a Brett Favre interception, the Vikings were in the driver's seat to make their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1976 season. With time expiring and the score tied at 28, the Purple had a fresh set of downs and the rock on the New Orleans 33 yard line while holding two timeouts. After a pair of ChesterTaylor and Adrian Peterson rush attempts without gain, the Vikings called their second time out with 19 seconds remaining and appeared set to run what would likely have been a third consecutive rush to set up a lengthy Ryan Longwell field goal attempt.
But before the Vikings could run the play, they were penalized for having 12 men in the huddle, which cost them 5 valuable yards and moved the ball back to the Saints' 38. The ensuing play found Favre taking the snap and rolling to his right before he threw across his body to Sidney Rice in the middle of the field and had his attempt intercepted by New Orleans' d-back Tracy Porter.
The game went to overtime, whereupon the Saints won the coin toss and proceeded to drive from their own 39 to the Viking 22 -- on 4th and 3, at 10:19 of OT, New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley bombed a 40-yard field goal through the gut of the uprights and punched the Saints a ticket to the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The overtime drive was wrought with both drama and controversy as the Vikings were called for two defensive penalties and found no advantage in two of three plays that were reviewed by officials and all Upheld.
The season-ending loss gave the Vikings a 13-5 record on the year. All five defeats occurred away from the Metrodome. The Saints move on to meet AFC champion Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami on February 7th. The Colts beat the New York Jets 30-17 earlier in the day.
The loss added another piercing stab to the respective hearts of longtime Viking faithful -- we pained souls who have adopted the ignominious tradition of losing in a special way. What's perhaps most unique about this latest chapter of defeat is that, should the Vikings have presented themselves in a more spotless fashion and still lost on the road to a likable Saints' bunch who entered the game a No. 1 seed and a betting favorite -- that's something we all could have slept with last night. Instead, the Purple put themselves in a position to make this one depressing. Aside from the potential game-ending scenario detailed above, the Vikings also outgained the Saints by more than 200 yards, had 16 more first downs and controlled the ball for nearly nine more minutes -- despite not touching the rock in overtime.
Brett Favre -- while not suffering a statistical sack -- was hit by everything in New Orleans but Louie Armstrong's fricking trumpet. Favre took nearly 20 hits on the night, one of which rocked his left leg and found the 40-year-old being assisted off the field in the third quarter. Still, the graybeard old performed with ample mettle, and continually dusted himself off to toss for 310 yards and a touchdown.Of the Vikings 6 fumbles, Adrian Peterson coughed up two balls and could have been charged for a third in a bungled exchange with Favre late in the second on the New Orleans' four yard line, although that one was credited to the quarterback. A.P. balanced his teeter-totter performance with 122 ground yards and three rushing scores. The rush output marked his biggest total since the butterfingers-back went for 133 versus the Lions in Week 10. Fellow fumbler Bernard Berrian had season-highs of 9 catches and 102 yards on the night. Both served as game highs, as well.
For the Saints, Drew Brees tossed for three scores but was held to just 197 pass yards, his third-lowest total on the year.
To see the box score, please click here. Or, you could just stick a sharp pencil in your ear.
Please check back later in the week for a gander at what obstacles face the Vikings in the offseason.
Last night's loss proved equal parts entertainment and pain. At some point of retrospect however, I'm of the opinion that the defeat won't negate the positives of what was an oft-pleasurable and successful 2009 season Nonetheless: today our T.C. laments what could have been. On the cusp of giving the Twin Cities our first shot at a world championship since 1991, the Vikings instead leave us with a cold and sobering late-January morn.