In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The New Orleans Saints march on to Super Bowl XLIV, beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime at the Superdome. It was the second time the NFC Championship Game was decided in overtime; the previous overtime game also involved the Vikings losing to the Atlanta Falcons 11 years earlier. It was a back and forth game, with Tracy Porter intercepting Brett Favre late in the fourth quarter to keep the game tied. The winning kick by Garrett Hartley was 40-yards long.
Things were as bleak as can be four years earlier in New Orleans, as the city looked to recover from Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects. Forced to play in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, the Saints posted a record of 3-13 in 2005. Looking to turn things around, the Saints signed Drew Brees and hired Sean Payton in 2006. The Saints went to the NFC Championship in 2006 but struggled the next two seasons and missed the playoffs. In 2009, the Saints won their first 13 games to win the NFC South. However, New Orleans struggled in December, losing their final three games to finish 13-3. In the Divisional Playoffs, the Saints erased the doubts surrounding their late-season struggles as they slammed the reigning NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals 45-14 to advance to the NFC Championship for the second time.
The Minnesota Vikings rolled the dice in 2009, acquiring Brett Favre. Favre was coming off one season with the New York Jets after becoming an icon with the Green Bay Packers. Like the Saints, the Vikings coached by Brad Childress got off to a great start, sitting at 10-1, before they too suffered a late-season skid, dropping three of four games, before they finished 12-4. The Vikings rolled over the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 in the Divisional Playoffs.
The Saints entered the game as a three and a half point favorite but found themselves down 7-0 as the Vikings went on a long drive, ending with a 19-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson. The Saints also scored on their first drive, with Drew Brees completing a 38-touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas. The Vikings scored again, benefiting from an unnecessary roughness penalty as Brett Favre connected with Sidney Rice on a five-yard touchdown pass. The defenses began to find their footing in the second quarter, but the Saints managed to tie the game with Devery Henderson catching a nine-yard pass from Brees. The Vikings did have a chance to regain the lead, but Favre fumbled at the New Orleans four as the game was even 14-14 at the half.
Courtney Roby took the third quarter kickoff back 61 yards, as the Saints took the lead for the first time on a nine-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas. The game remained even as Minnesota answered as Peterson scored his second touchdown of the game with a one-yard plunge. The Saints regained the lead early in the fourth quarter as Reggie Bush, on a short pass from Drew Brees, was ruled to have broken the plane after a challenge by Saints’ coach Sean Payton. The Vikings continued to get the ball down the field but failed to even the score as Tracy Porter stripped Bernard Berrian before he had a chance to get in the end zone. The reprieve would be short-lived, as the Vikings quickly got the ball back and tied the game 28-28 with five minutes left on a two-yard run by Adrian Peterson. After a Saints three and out, the Vikings had the ball in Brett Favre's hands, looking to drive to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Favre got Minnesota into field goal range but was picked off by Porter with 19 seconds left looking to get more.
The Saints would win the overtime coin toss and got the ball. Brett Favre would not see the field again. The Saints got the ball down to the Vikings' 22-yard line as Garrett Hartley won the game 31-28 with a 40-yard field goal. The Saints would go on to beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 to win the Lombardi Trophy. The NFL would chance the overtime rule as a result of this game, as a team had to score a touchdown off the first possession to win the game, as teams would be able to answer overtime field goals starting in 2010.
Years later, it was learned that the Saints led by Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams would place bounties on several Vikings, including Brett Favre. This would lead to suspensions for Williams and coach Sean Payton in 2012.