Championship Sunday: Saints, Colts go to Miami; Vikes, Jets left behind
Brett Favre and the Vikings will live with loss to Saints for a long time
Tim Tebow is ready for his close-up at the Senior Bowl in Mobile this week
More: Weekly awards, stat of the week and 10 things I think I think
NEW ORLEANS -- In the losers' locker room Sunday night, there was mostly silence for the first five, 10 minutes that reporters were allowed in. Silence among the players, but the noise on the outside -- the delirium, really -- seeped through the walls. The cries symbolized 43 years of frustration ending, and the wailing of repeated "Who Dat!'' chants, which young and old screamed through the weekend and into this morning in a raucous celebration in the French Quarter, finally got to someone in the room.
"[Bleep] Who Dat!'' came an angry voice from the cluster of the offensive linemen's stalls.
The Vikings will have to live with their bitterest loss in a generation for a long, long time. Thirty-one first downs, outgaining the Saints by 218 yards, rendering Reggie Bush (seven carries, eight yards) irrelevant except for one short touchdown catch, not allowing a Saints' wideout a 20-yard catch all day ... and losing. Throwing it away. Fumbling it away. Eight fumbles or interceptions in 13 possessions.
I'll get to the triumphs of the weekend, the Colts' second AFC title in four years and the Saints' first in forever, but I've got to touch on the Vikings first. Whoever lost the game here was going to feel it for a long time, but the fact that Minnesota may have lost on a 12-men-in the-huddle penalty, followed by a horrendous Brett Favre interception in the last pass of his season (career?) ... I don't know how the Vikings will sleep for a while.
Oh, and I'll have an opinion about the overtime rule too. And an interesting conversation with Tim Tebow about the first day of the rest of his life. But let's start with the beaten man at his locker in the bowels of the Superdome, and the odd end to this game.
The most compelling player of the era is broken.
"Poor Breleigh,'' Brett Favre said almost inaudibly, after hugging half of his organization and getting emotional with a few fellows, mostly Sidney Rice. Breleigh's the daughter who urged him so strongly to come back last summer, and now Favre was thinking how distraught she must be. "I'm sure her heart's broken.''
"Of course, so is mine.''
No matter what you think of Favre -- and it's no secret I think he's the most charismatic and interesting player I've covered -- you have to admire how he bleeds in front of us. He goes out and gets the snot knocked out of him ("We were determined to hit him over and over and make him feel it,'' said none other than his old friend with the Packers, Saints safety Darren Sharper), somehow survives, then makes a throw he never should have made. And he stands there for the inquisition and answers the questions as honestly as I think a man can in these circumstances.
Before he went to his postgame press conference, he talked to me quietly for a couple of minutes, then to a couple of others in a growing group around his locker.
"I thought when I got hit [the high-low Saints sandwich late in the third quarter], my ankle was broken,'' he said. "I felt a lot of crunching in there.''
I told him I thought it was a late hit, with the lower hit a good example of why the Tom Brady rule was put in this year. Favre released the ball and was hit high by one rusher and low by another; the low hit looked like the kind of hit below the waist that deserved a flag, but the 'Dome was still ringing with boos from a roughing-the-passer call four plays earlier when New Orleans lineman Anthony Hargrove drove Favre into the ground (a textbook call for driving a quarterback from the air into the ground with the force the rusher's body). And it's human nature to wonder if a good referee, Peter Morelli, was inclined to let this hit pass because he'd just called the big one on the Saints. Whatever, Favre limped off. He'd been nailed by Sharper in the first half, then by Hargrove, and now this one.
"Tomorrow,'' he said, "the whole foot will be purple. My thigh, right there, will be purple. My wrist [with a chunk of skin missing] will be purple. Other than that, I'm OK.''
He said all the requisite stuff about his future, that he'll go home and think about it and talk to his family about it. (My feeling is he'll be back for another season because he feels at home in Minnesota, as Tim Layden wrote so well in Sports Illustrated this week, and because he likes his teammates so much, but I have no inside information on it. And as most of you know, my inside information on Favre playing or not has been as solid as vanilla pudding over the past three years.)
As for the question all of America is asking this morning -- how in the world could you have thrown that pass? -- this was his explanation: When the Vikings had third-and-10 at the New Orleans 33 with 19 seconds left in a 28-28 game, they planned to call a running play to get a couple of yards closer. Then Ryan Longwell would trot onto the field for a field goal of between 45 and 50 yards. But the Vikings got a five-yard penalty for 12 men in the huddle, which is illegal because an extra man or men would create unfair confusion to the defense. Incredible it would happen at such a big moment. "The communication was obviously lost [between the sideline and the field for the play that was called],'' Favre said.
Now, instead of running and forcing Longwell to try a field goal of up to 55 yards (he told the coaches he thought his range was about 53 yards), Favre had to throw. He rolled right with at least five yards of open field in front of him, and made the kind of decision that still haunts him from his last throw as a Packer. Against the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, he threw a careless pass that was intercepted by the Giants' Corey Webster, and the game-winning field goal followed. As did his divorce from the Packers. Here, he locked onto Sidney Rice and threw a pick right into the hands of cornerback Tracy Porter.
"I probably should have ran it,'' Favre said. "In hindsight, that's probably what I should have done. It was just late to Sidney.''
As Favre said to me: "You try to say it's just a game, and of course it is. You know that's the case. But it still hurts.''
This one will, for a long time.
No way you can blame Brad Childress for this loss, but he made a couple of odd playcalls and non-timeout calls in the fourth quarter that'll be debated for a while in the Great North.
A 28-28 game, 2:37 left, Vikings ball at their 21. Three timeouts left. Adrian Peterson skirts right end. No gain. Tick tick tick. No timeout. No hurry to the line. "Is Brad Childress playing for overtime?'' I asked seatmates Don Banks and Layden in the press box.
Maybe, I figured, he thinks Favre's hurt and he'd just rather drain the clock and take his chances with the coin flip. But what sense did that make? What if Minnesota lost the coin flip and never saw the ball in overtime? Here it had three timeouts, and on the previous two possessions, even with a battered Favre, the Vikings had gone 70 and 57 yards and found the cracks in the Saints' defense they needed to find.
Peterson burrowed behind right guard. Gain of two. Now a timeout by New Orleans. Now the Saints would take the Vikings' gift; they'd take the ball at their 30-yard line, 90 seconds or so left and no timeouts, and try to get into Garrett Hartley field goal position.
"It was all in line with the number of timeouts they had left,'' said Childress, which confused me. Then he said in cases like this he wants to either score or end the game with the ball in his hands, to prevent the other team from scoring. If that's the case, he had a strange play-calling way of showing it. He couldn't burn the clock plus the two remaining Saints' timeouts without trying to be somewhat aggressive. But without the Saints calling that timeout, the Vikes, presumably, would have called another clock-eating play, then punted it away.
Now Favre threw to Bernard Berrian for 10 yards. First down. And he found Rice up the right side on the next play for 20 more. First down at the Saints' 47. Chester Taylor for 14, and then two straight no-gain rushing plays.
Timeout, Vikings. Nineteen seconds left, ball at the Saint 33.
The crowd got jacked up for one final defensive stand -- so jacked up, evidently, that an extra back was in the Minnesota huddle, thinking it was a formation that required his presence on the field. Nope. Favre signaled timeout and an official promptly threw a flag. "You can't call back-to-back timeouts,'' said Childress.
After the penalty yardage was marched off, he called a roll pass for Favre, and the rest is history. As I said, I don't think the blame for this loss should be on Childress by any means, but he certainly did his part to muck it up in the last 2:37.
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