Saints top Vikes to reach 1st Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, Jan 25, (RTRS): The New Orleans Saints reached their first Super Bowl after a thrilling 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday earned them a match-up with the Indianapolis Colts. The game finished 28-28 in regulation after Vikings quarterback Brett Favre had thrown an interception with 19 seconds on the clock and his team close to field goal range. The Saints won the toss for possession and kicker Garrett Hartley kept his cool for a 40-yard field goal to set off emotional celebrations in a city that less than five years ago was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Vikings, who have not reached a Super Bowl since their defeat at the end of the 1976 season, have now lost their last five NFC Championship games.


In front of a raucous 71,000 crowd at the Louisiana Superdome, the Saints also thwarted 40-year-old Favre’s dream of becoming the oldest quarterback to play in a Super Bowl.
Instead it will be Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw three touchdowns, heading to Miami for the Feb 7 showdown with Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Favre, who retired at the end of last season before a change of heart, showed all of his rugged determination and class — although he regretted the late interception.
“I probably should have ran it,” he said. “I don’t know how far I could have gotten but in hindsight that is probably what I should have done,” he said, describing the mistake as “costly”.
The Vikings’ outstanding running back Adrian Peterson scored three times in a losing cause but a game of this nature was always going to bring injustice along with the rewards and joy.
It was a pulsating encounter with the teams matching each other hit for hit and point for point all the way throughout the four quarters.


The Vikings drew first blood but the teams went in 14-14 at halftime. The next two quarters followed the same pattern — the Saints scored and then the Vikings came back to level.
Favre, who hobbled after suffering two heavy hits, recovered to help lead the drive which brought the Vikings level at 28-28, Peterson making his third touchdown with a two yard run.
But with 19 seconds left on the clock, Favre, looking to make the ground towards a game-winning field goal, threw a pass toward Sidney Rice which was snaffled up by Tracy Porter to effectively put the game into overtime.
The drama was not over yet. The Saints had to run on a fourth and one to get a first down that allowed them to move into field goal territory, Pierre Thomas making the crucial yard. The luck of winning the coin toss for overtime and the steady nerves of Hartley were all that truly separated two excellent teams, although the Saints will feel that having forced five turnovers they deserved victory.
The Indianapolis Colts battled back to beat the New York Jets 30-17 for the American Football Conference (AFC) championship and advance to the Super Bowl on Sunday.


Quarterback Peyton Manning rescued Indianapolis from a 17-6 deficit late in the second quarter by throwing three touchdown passes as the Colts scored 24 unanswered points against the NFL’s top-rated defense.
“We talked about being patient. We knew it would be a four-quarter game. We didn’t panic,” Manning said during the trophy presentation.
“It’s very special. It’s great to win this championship at home,” he added to deafening roars from a franchise record crowd of 67,650 at the domed Lucas Oil stadium.
Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell came out on top in a match-up of rookie head coaches against Jets chief Rex Ryan.
“Our guys have always been a very confident bunch. They do a great job of hanging in there,” said Caldwell. “Peyton had an outstanding game. He’s great at making adjustments.”


Ryan tipped his cap to the Colts: “Obviously, they’re the cream of the crop right now. With Peyton Manning, if you can’t disrupt his rhythm he’s going to kill you and we couldn’t disrupt it enough.”
Indianapolis return to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years after winning the 2006 NFL championship with a victory over the Chicago Bears, also in Miami.
The wild card Jets, who surprised Indianapolis with some long passing strikes in the first half, slumped when faced with Manning’s pinpoint passing to his young band of receivers.
New York’s remarkable journey through the playoffs had seen them beat Cincinnati and San Diego and for a while they threatened a third upset to grab a place in the Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years.
Indianapolis had taken 3-0 lead on a 25-yard Matt Stover field goal early in the second quarter when Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez hurled a strike to Braylon Edwards streaking down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown play.
The Colts drove down the field but again were kept out of the end zone and Indianapolis settled for another field goal, a 19-yarder that made it 7-6.


The Jets hit back. Brad Smith, operating out of the wildcat alignment, threw only his second pass of the season to find Jerricho Cotchery open for a 45-yard gain to the 12-yard-line.
Sanchez cashed in with a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller and when Jim Leonhard recovered a Colts fumble, Jay Feely rammed home a 48-yard field goal for a 17-6 Jets lead.
With time running out in the half, Manning hit rookie Austin Collie on three straight connections for 18, 36 and 16 yards, the last for a touchdown that brought the Colts within four.
Sanchez, who was a brilliant 5-for-7 in passing for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, could not sustain his early success as Manning took charge.
He lofted a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone on a fade route to Pierre Garcon in the Colts’ first possession of the third quarter to put Indianapolis in front 20-17.
Manning, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards, followed with a 15-yard TD pass to tight end Dwight Clark, and Stover capped the win with a 21-yard field goal.
 

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