By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Achaean of analysis
The Saints didn't win Sunday night. They survived. Here's our take on an instant classic: New Orleans' 31-28 overtime victory against the Vikings that ended with Garrett Hartley being flashed by every girl on Bourbon Street until the wee hours of the morning.
BrettFavre is the Hektor of NFL lore
BrettFavre is an ironman. A warrior. A virtually indestructible force of nature. Hell, he took more hits Sunday against the Saints than Wavy Gravy did at Woodstock .
His freakish 40-year-old body was twisted into gruesome contortions at one point that would have rendered lesser men out for the season.
Instead, BrettFavre hobbled to the sidelines, hobbled into huddles and hobbled back in the pocket right to the very end, never missing a snap – completing his incredible record of 307 starts -- and gunslinging right 'til the very end.
But this wounded warrior is truly a tragic hero in the Homeric or Shakespearean sense, an Oedipus who can't escape his fate or a mighty Hektor of Troy doomed to have his legacy dragged through the battlefields of history by the Achilles of analysis. The spate of disasters he's endured – and caused – is listed here.
You just knew, having followed his career, how it would all play out on Sunday: BrettFavre would be given the ball in a critical situation, BrettFavre would have the game and the hopes and dreams of a team that turned the entire season over to him in his hands, and BrettFavre would throw the ball into the arms of an enemy defender.
It's who he is. It's what he does.
The pick Sunday was among the worst: the Vikings had driven from their own 21 to the New Orleans 38 in the final seconds of regulation and needed 15 yards for a first down; they needed six yards to get a field goal shot of under 50 yards; they needed an incompletion to give Ryan Longwell a shot to match his career best of 55 yards.
Anything would give them a shot at the Super Bowl ... anything but an interception. And then BrettFavre, in typical gunslinger fashion, threw across his body into the middle of the defense, where it was picked off by Tracy Porter.
The Saints must play better to beat the Colts
New Orleans has fielded a ball-hawking defense all season. So they deserve plenty of credit for forcing five turnovers (2 INT, 3 fumbles) ... of course, Adrian Peterson deserves plenty of blame for kicking the ball away at every possible moment.
But those turnovers were the only thing that separated the Saints from a double-digit blowout loss at home.
The Vikings gained more on the ground (165-68)
The Vikings gained more yards through the air (310-197)
The Vikings averaged more yards per play (5.8 to 4.7)
The Vikings were better on third downs (58% to 25%)
The Saints scored more points. But they won't score more points against the Colts with those same numbers, and you can no longer count on Peyton Manning to cough up a couple picks in a big game. That crown still belongs on the head of BrettFavre.
Interceptions still rule
We told you before the conference title games that the second pick is the one that kills teams – a play that instantly turns the likelihood of winning into the likelihood of losing.
It was BrettFavre's second pick that doomed the Saints to failure on Sunday. The team had survived one other pick, and two lost fumbles, and still had a shot at winning right to the very end.
But, like most teams in history, the Vikings could not survive the second pick.
The quarterbacks who threw fewer picks are now 10-0 in the 2009 postseason; or, looked at another way, the defenses that force more INTs are 10-0 in the 2009 postseason.
It's safe to say that the quarterback who throws fewer picks in Miami will be the one who hoists the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7.
In fact, interceptions are only growing more important
When we first published the Cold, Hard Football Facts interception ladder in 2005, there was already a massive gap between the performances of each team based upon the number of picks.
Picks in football in recent years, however, have actually declined in frequency. Passers are more careful with the ball these days than they ever have been. But as picks have grown more rare, they've actually grown in importance. Since we first published our list, the gap in performance between teams based upon the number of picks has actually widened.
Here are the current numbers, heading into Super Bowl XLIV.
Teams that toss more touchdowns than their opponents are 218-65 (.770). Teams that toss fewer interceptions than their opponents are 273-56 (.830).
A quick up and down on some of the key figures in the NFC title game.
Winner – Tracy Porter
– The Saints second-year cornerback was easily the defensive star of the day, with a game-high eight tackles, a forced fumble and the game-saving INT at the end of regulation. The fact that he's a Louisiana native (Port Allen) who just lifted his hometown team to its first-ever Super Bowl is sweeter than a Mardi Gras king cake
Loser – Jared Allen – Minnesota 's high-profile defensive end was a virtual no-show in the biggest game of the year with zero sacks, little pressure and just two tackles.
Winner – The Cold, Hard Football Facts – We called for a 31-27 New Orleans victory; we got a 31-28 New Orleans victory. We're now 7-3 picking playoff winners and got every winner correct over the past two weeks. However, the 5-5 mark ATS is below our standards.
Loser – Vikings fans – There once was a time when the Vikings could be reasonably counted on to field great teams that wilted in the Super Bowl: they went 0-4 between Super Bowls IV and XI. Those were the good old day for this franchise. Minnesota has not been back to the Super Bowl since 1976 – that's 33 seasons ago for those of you keeping score at home. They can now be reasonably counted on to field great teams that wilt in the conference title game – 0-5 with a shot at the big game on the line since their last appearance in the Super Bowl.
Winner – Jermon Bushrod – New Orleans' left tackle owned Jared Allen and protected Drew Brees' blind side on a day when the quarterback was sacked just once.
Loser – Brad Childress – Put all your eggs in BrettFavre's basket, and they tend to get tossed into the hands of opposing players.
Winner – Garrett Hartley – The pint-sized place kicker for the Saints started the year on suspension for a banned substance. He ended the season booting himself into Louisiana sports lore with a 40-yard overtime field goal and then being carried off the field by jubilant teammates. Hartley had attempted just 24 field goals in his two-year career (connecting on 22).
Loser – Minnesota ball carriers – The Vikings suffered six (count 'em, 6!) fumbles Sunday. Miraculously, they lost only three of them.
Winner – Southlake (TX) Carroll High School – It's been a great year for a school already known as one of the preeminent high school programs in the nation. Alabama 's national champion quarterback Greg McElroy came out of Southlake Carroll; Saints back-up and former Heisman candidate at Missouri Chase Daniel came out of Southlake Carroll; and Saints kicker and overtime hero Garrett Hartley came out of Southlake Carroll.
Loser – pro football fans – We have to live through yet another year of "will he or won't he" play off-season drama from BrettFavre.
We interrupt this broadcast for your entertainment pleasure
Maybe it's just me, but Born on the Bayou is one of the great, great pieces of work in the American song book: a bunch of California boys who channel the spirit of a backwoods Cajun coon-ass in the Atchafalaya Basin .
show video here
Losing the OT toss is not a death sentence
The Saints won the overtime toss and proceeded to drive down for the game-winning field goal on the only possession by either team in the extra session.
Naturally, talk of the futility of the NFL overtime system has been a hot topic Monday morning. Let us first state that, yes, overtime football sucks. There's no good way to do it. The NFL coin-flip system sucks. The college football trade-possessions-at-the-25 system seems to be better, but can often drag on forever.
With that said, critics of the NFL overtime system seem to believe that losing the coin flip is a death sentence and winning it is an express pass to victory.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts say otherwise. NFL teams that won the toss were 7-6 (.538) in 2009.
Heading into the 2009 season, teams that won the coin toss had gone 232-183-17 (.557), according to the NFL Record & Fact Book.
Yes, winning the toss is an advantage. But it's not an automatic win or loss by any team.
Drew by the light of day
The New Orleans passing attack never seemed to find its groove against Minnesota's porous pass defense
. But Drew Brees' numbers look fairly impressive by the light of day:
17 of 31, 54.5 percent, 197 yards, 6.35 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, 106.5 passer rating.
It was hardly his best performance of the year. In fact, following a season in which he set a record for accuracy (70.62 percent), it was his least accurate outing of the year. But it's a good solid day and you can bet that Minnesota fans would have settled for those numbers, instead of the 310 yards and two picks they got from BrettFavre. Most importantly, he avoided the critical INT that most certainly would have spelled doom.
See you in Miami
The Cold, Hard Football Facts will have two of its contributors in Miami to cover the big Saints-Colts battle in Super Bowl XLIV: Colonel Comey and General Disarray (also known as the Chief Troll).
The Defensive Hogs update
The Defensive Hog Index proved a non-factor in the 2009 postseason, after dominating playoff analysis in its first two years of existence.
Teams with the better Defensive Hogs have gone just 4-6 in this year's playoffs, and the teams with the lower-rated Hogs won both conference title games.
The Colts over the Jets, as noted Sunday, was the biggest upset in DHI history. The Saints, meanwhile, overcame the NFL's No. 3-ranked Defensive Hogs later in the day.
The top four groups of Defensive Hogs all reached the playoffs in 2009. All four lost to teams with inferior defensive fronts (Green Bay lost to Arizona; Philadelphia lost to Dallas; Minnesota lost to New Orleans; and the Jets lost to the Colts).