NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - The Saints struggled on offense for most of the game but rallied in the fourth quarter to tie it at the end of regulation and force overtime but Kirt Cousins led the Vikings down the field on a game-winning drive to end the Saints’ season.
The Saints (13-4) fell 26-20 to the Vikings (11-6) in overtime.
Drew Brees was 26-of-33 for 208 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception. Alvin Kamara had seven carries for 21 yards and a touchdown. He also caught eight passes for 34 yards. Taysom Hill had four carries for 50 yards. He caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 50-yard pass completion. According to the NFL Media Research Department, he is the first player in NFL history with 50 or more pass yards, 50 or more rush yards, and 25 yards or more receiving yards in a playoff game. Michael Thomas caught seven passes for 70 yards.
Cousins was 19-of-31 for 242 yards and a touchdown. Dalvin Cook had 28 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Adam Thielen caught seven passes for 129 yards.
On the second play of the game, Cousins found Thielen on a short pass but Janoris Jenkins forced a fumble and Vonn Bell recovered. The Saints were not able to take full advantage of it, though. Brees led them down to the 4-yard line but a 7-yard loss on a sack by former LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen on third-and-goal forced New Orleans to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Wil Lutz to take the 3-0 lead with 9:56 remaining in the first quarter. The Vikings responded with an 11-play, 50-yard drive that got them to the New Orleans 25-yard line and a 43-yard field goal by Dan Bailey tied it at 3-3 with a little more than 4:00 left in the first.
After the Vikings defense forced a three-and-out, the Saints defense stepped up big as well. On third-and-eight, Trey Hendrickson was able to get to Cousins and drop him to the turf for a sack. The play of the defense gave the Saints some momentum and the offense was able to keep it going. Hill was instrumental on two big plays on the possession. First, lined up in the shotgun, Hill kept the ball on a read-option and gained 11 yards. On the very next play, he heaved the ball downfield to Deonte Harris for a 50-yard pass completion that put the Saints on the 4-yard line. Kamara was able to push the pile and cross the goal line to put the Saints up 10-3 with 9:18 remaining in the second quarter.
The Vikings then drove down the field to inside the New Orleans 5-yard line. Most of the yards on the drive were gained by Cook, on both handoffs and catching passes out of the backfield. On five touches, Cook accounted for 50 yards on the drive. However, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Demario Davis forced Cook out of bounds for a loss of two yards. The play forced a 21-yard field goal that made it 10-6 with less than 3:00 left in the half.
On the Saints' next possession, Brees tried to go deep to Ted Ginn Jr. but the pass was picked off by Anthony Harris. Cousins then led the Vikings 45 yards to paydirt on a drive capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run by Cook to give the Vikings their first lead of the game at 13-10 with only :23 left in the first half. On the ensuing kickoff, Harris found some room and broke some tackles for a 54-yard return to the Minnesota 45-yard line. Brees found Thomas in the middle of the field for a 20-yard gain to the 25-yard line with :05 remaining in the half. However, the usually sure-footed Lutz was wide right on a 45-yard field goal try and the Saints went into the locker room trailing 13-10.
The Saints received the opening kickoff of the second half and couldn't get fully going. On a third-and-1 from their own 44-yard line, the Saints lost six yards on a screen to Kamara that was snuffed out by the Vikings defense. A booming punt by Thomas Morstead put Minnesota starting from its own 12-yard line. Then, on their first offensive play of the second half, the Vikings were called for holding, which backed them up to the 6-yard line. The Saints defense went on to force a three-and-out. Things started off badly for the Saints on the next possession and just got worse. On the punt, J.T. Gray was called for an illegal blindside hit. Then, on the first offensive play, Brees was dropped by Griffen for a 10-yard loss. The Saints went three-and-out on the drive.
The Saints defense started off the drive with a pass interference penalty but tightened up for the next couple of plays. However, on third-and-9, Marshon Lattimore got turned around a couple of times on a great route by Thielen and Cousins found him for a 34-yard gain. The Vikings eventually scored on the drive on a 1-yard run by Cook to extend their lead to 20-10 with less than 3:30 left in the third quarter. On fourth-and-3 from their own 35-yard line, the Saints tried a fake punt that got stuffed. They were very fortunate to be bailed out by a false start penalty and were forced to punt on what was essentially another three-and-out.
The Saints defense then forced another three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense. Brees appeared to have a little more time in the pocket and used it to complete some passes down the field, including a “QB connection” 20-yard touchdown toss to Hill to make it 20-17 with 10:31 remaining in the game. It was the sixth time this season that Brees has hooked up with Hill for a score.
After the Saints defense forced a punt, Brees went right back to Hill on the first play of the next drive. On third-and-1, Hill took a direct snap and picked up nine yards to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Hill lined up in the shotgun and was thinking run the whole way. He ran over a guy, broke a couple of tackles, and sprinted down the sideline for a 28-yard gain. However, on the very next play, Hunter got to Brees again for a sack-fumble and Minnesota recovered.
The Saints defense was ready to answer the call once again and on third-and-19, Cam Jordan dumped Cousins for a 4-yard loss. Brees was able to get the Saints to the 31-yard line on passes to Kamara, Thomas, and Cook. They then turned to Lutz for a 49-yard field goal to make it 20-20 with :02 left in regulation.
The Vikings received the ball first in overtime and Cousins took them right down the field on a 9-play, 75-yard game-winning drive that was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. The drive included a 43-yard toss to Thielen down to the 2-yard line. The Vikings got the 26-20 win.
The Saints finish the season 13-4. It was the third year in a row they were eliminated from the playoffs on a game-losing play. ESPN’s Adam Shefter reported the Saints are now the first team in NFL history to have six straight playoff eliminations by one score and the second team since the Packers from 2013-15 to be eliminated in three straight postseasons on the final play of the game.
The Vikings will next play the San Francisco 49ers.
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