How Bout Dem Saints?: Hartley Boots New Orleans To Miami
Coming into this NFC Championship Game both Brett Favre and Drew Brees knew that this game would be one of the most important games of their careers. This game would truly be a legacy builder for both.
Favre made it clear at the beginning of this season that the only reason he came back to play in the NFL was to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. Many people honestly thought he was washed up, though, and thought it would end up the same way as when he played for the Jets a year back, which would be not reaching the playoffs.
Once again though, Favre had silenced all of his critics and now found his team just one game away from the Super Bowl. Not to mention all the critics that said he couldn't compete at this level when the Vikings signed him were dead wrong, as he had probably the best season of his career. After all he was entering the NFC Championship game with 37 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. The only thing standing in the way of him reaching the Super Bowl now were Brees and the Saints.
On the other hand Brees was just as motivated as Favre was coming into this game. He knew how important this game was for the team but most importantly for the city of New Orleans. Boy have they been through some rough times since Hurricane Katrina.
The city had turned to the Saints as their get-away from reality. Ever since then the fans have been behind the Saints 110 percent. Also it was very important for the franchise too, as they have never won a Super Bowl since the start of the franchise in 1967. The players and city of New Orleans were on a mission.
As the players were all getting set for the game about an hour before kick-off they all got the announcement that the Colts had beaten the Jets and would play the winner of their game. Trust me though, not one single player on one of those teams was thinking about the Colts, they didn't care. They all had their minds set on one thing: that was on winning the NFC title. Then they would worry about the Colts.
All week long the hype for this game was unbelievable. It almost felt like a Super Bowl atmosphere, as both teams were starving to reach the Super Bowl. I would definitely rank this game as one of the most important and interesting NFC Championship Game matchups of all time. Both teams had tremendous regular seasons and had been led by two of the best veteran quarterbacks of all-time. The only question now was which quarterback would end up on top. That's where all the fun begins.
The Vikings were going to receive to start the game. The Superdome was now deafening as the 70,000 plus fans were all on their feet screaming as the game was just about to get underway. One of the greatest NFC Championship games was now about to begin as well.
The Vikings' first possession couldn't have gone any better. As they put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson with 9:35 left to go in the first quarter. Once again Favre was off to a hot start as he completed 6 out of his first 7 pass attempts for 51 yards. Now it was the Saints turn.
Not surprisingly the Saints answered back as Brees led an impressive drive which ended on his 38-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas. Right then and there I knew this game would be close all the way down until the end.
On the Vikings' next possession they scored again as Favre hit Sidney Rice for a 5-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining in the first quarter. This was truly remarkable as this was Rice's fourth touchdown catch in the past two games.
Not long after that the Saints came back to tie the game as Brees hit Devery Henderson in the back of the endzone for a 9-yard touchdown with 10:30 to go in the second quarter.
At halftime the score was still the same, as it appeared that both teams' defenses were settling down a bit and making big stops. Up to this point the game had gone as most people had thought it would go down, as a tight battle. Now it was time to see which team would come out stronger than the other in the second half.
The second half went the same way as the first as both teams were battling it out and kept answering back after the other team scored.
The game was now in the fourth quarter at the two minute mark and the Vikings had the ball at their own 21-yard line. The thought going through everyone's mind as they were watching the game was "Can Brett amaze us again?" Well they would certainly find out.
The first two plays didn't work for the Vikings at all as they found themselves at third-and-eight. Once again though, Favre dropped back in the pocket and found Bernard Berrian for a gain of 10 yards. The Saints now took their first timeout with 1:39 left in the game. Then the next play worked even better for the Vikings as Favre found Sidney Rice downfield for a gain of 19 yards.
The ball was now right at midfield. Not for long though as Chester Taylor took the handoff from Favre and gained 15 huge yards and put them in field goal range with just over a minute left in the game, forcing New Orleans to take their second time out. Two plays later the clock was sitting at 19 seconds left in the game, and it appeared that the Vikings were going to try to get a few more yards to give the veteran kicker Ryan Longwell some breathing room. But that's when it all went downhill.
The Vikings had 12 men in the huddle which put them back at the 38-yard line, and out of field goal range. Favre now was going to have to complete a pass downfield to get them back into field goal range with 19 seconds left.
Instead, he dropped back and threw the ball into the hands of the Saints defensive back Tracy Porter, who returned the interception for about 20 yards. Wow! Favre actually made a game-deciding mistake for once! I couldn't remember the last time that had happened to him.
So now the Saints took the game into overtime. They were relieved to still be able to win this game and they weren't going to let it go this time.
The Saints won the coin toss and elected to receive. Thomas caught the kick at the goal line and returned it for a huge 40-yard return to give the Saints great field position.
The first two plays didn't work out well for the Saints as they now faced a third-and-six from their own 43-yard line. On the next play they got a huge gift as Vikings defensive back Asher Allen was called for holding giving the Saints a first down on their own 48-yard line.
Once again though, two plays later the Saints were facing a third-and-10. This time Brees found Henderson for a 9-yard gain just inches short of the first down. There was no question though: they were going for it.
They got the first down as Thomas hurdled up in the air just crossing the first down marker. A few plays later Brees hit Robert Meacheam for a 12-yard gain and the ball was now on the Vikings' 23-yard line. It was now all up to the kicker Garrett Hartley.
Hartley could send his team to the Super Bowl and put Favre and the Vikes packing their bags to go back home. With 10:15 left in overtime Hartley lined up for the 40-yarder which would be the biggest kick of his career. The snap and hold was good and then the kick..................................it was sailing straight through the uprights!
The Saints had WON! The entire Saints team ran to midfield where Hartley braced himself for all the monsters that were about to pile on top of him. It was a memorable sight to see, the emotion was unbelievable.
You could sense that this was more than just a big win; it was a big motivation for the whole city of New Orleans. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and never give up. After the mob was off Hartley the media raced to the hero. When asked of what it felt like he said, "the feeling is just so surreal; it's the greatest moment of my life." It truly was unbelievable.
The stage is now set as Super Bowl XLIV will have the Saints going up against the Colts. My thoughts about this game are "New Orleans you are in for another thriller!" Man, how bout dem Saints!
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