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Saints came through in the clutch; Favre foiled again in title game


Grading out the performances from the Saints' 31-28 overtime win over the Vikings on Sunday in New Orleans.

Quarterbacks: The last pass of Brett Favre's Packers career was a crucial interception against the Giants in the NFC championship. His last pass Sunday night was a crucial interception to Tracy Porter that may have cost the Vikings the Super Bowl. Very good game by Favre. And gutsy. But ultimately, you're judged by the plays you don't make as much as by the plays you do. Grade: B-

Running Backs: Adrian Peterson was the epitome of feast or famine. He had a big run for the Vikes' first TD, his first 100-yard game in nine weeks and three touchdowns. But he fumbled on the Saints' four-yard-line late in the first half and had too many drops and mistakes otherwise. Percy Harvin had a crucial fumble as well. Grade: C

Receivers: As a group, you couldn't ask for much more. Every receiver made plays, the passing attack was diverse and with Sidney Rice getting so much attention, Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe made huge plays. Berrian had a costly fumble, however, which was one of many for the Vikes on this night. Grade: B-

Offensive Line: John Sullivan and Anthony Herrera were strong on the run and controlled the center of the Saints' defensive line. Peterson ran for 122 yards. However, from the outset, Favre was harassed and pounded by Saints' pass-rushers. Had Favre gotten any pass protection at all, this could have been a cakewalk. Grade: D

Defensive Line: Several big plays were made in crucial third-and-short situations, including Ray Edwards blowing up a big fourth-and-one early and Pat Williams stuffing another one late. However, for the best pass-rushing team in the NFL to finish with exactly one sack is subpar. Grade: C-

Linebackers: Backup Jasper Brinkley was tested early and often, but withstood the onslaught pretty well. Ben Leber made big plays, then got called for a crucial pass interference. Chad Greenway was all over the field stuffing much of the Saints' attack. Grade: B-

Defensive Backs: The secondary was under the gun all night long. They were forced to cover an assortment of receivers one-on-one. For the most part they held up, but Tyrell Johnson was burned twice and Asher Allen's defensive-holding penalty in overtime was crucial. Grade: C

Special Teams: It's not so much what Vikings special teams did, as much as what they didn't do. Favre's interception snuffed a potential game-winning kick by Ryan Longwell (approximately 56 yards at the time). Kickoff coverage lapsed to open the second half, setting up the Saints' go-ahead score. And in overtime, the cover team allowed a 40-yard return from Pierre Thomas. Grade: D

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Coaching: Brad Childress' halftime adjustments were superb. Shiancoe became an integral part of the second-half game plan and helped immensely. Defensively, coordinator Leslie Frazier did a great job keeping Drew Brees in check. The mental breakdown of having 12 men in the huddle late in the fourth quarter, which arguably cost the Vikings the game, was a monumental coaching blunder. Grade: C

Quarterbacks: Drew Brees was out of sync and off-target. He managed to make big third-down completions in crucial situations -- including a big third-and-10 strike to Devery Henderson in overtime. Grade: C

Running Backs: The running game barely registered on the meter in this one, and yet running back play was huge. Reggie Bush had a crucial third-down conversion in the second quarter and a terrific reach for a touchdown on a reception. The same was true for Pierre Thomas. He was not exactly overwhelming running the ball, but made plays receiving. And Dave Thomas as lead blocker helped crucial conversions, including a fourth-down dive by Pierre Thomas in overtime. Grade: B

Receivers: They were catching everything early and then cooled. Tight end Jeremy Shockey was a huge factor early, then faded. This was not an awe-inspiring night by any means, but clutch in the end. Grade: B-

Offensive Line: The only unit on either squad that was excellent in every way. The big 'uns kept pressure off Brees, for the most part, and limited the best defensive front in football to just one sack. And while the Saints did not overwhelm when rushing the ball, the biggest fourth-down conversion of the year happened because an up-front push. Grade: A

Defensive Line: The Saints came flying through gaps all night long, hitting Favre on almost every snap. It's safe to say Favre was taking plenty of Advil on the long flight home after getting battered by the Saints. Still, the defensive linemen made several stupid penalties and were pushed around in the ground game. Grade: B

Linebackers: Jonathan Vilma was the best defender on the field. He was crushing ballcarriers and making big plays, including a huge interception of Favre. As a group, the Saints' backers may have been beaten on occasion, but they hawked the ball and made game-changing plays. Grade: B+

Defensive Backs: It was a mixed bag all night, with a combination of missed plays and great moments. The best thing Saints DBs did all night was tackle, consistently limiting potential damage. Tracy Porter's pick off of Favre's' horrible pass was a major breakthrough. Grade: C

Special Teams:Courtney Roby. Pierre Thomas. Garrett Hartley. These were the biggest heroes of the night? Yup. They were. No matter what you may hear otherwise, Saints special teamers carried the franchise to its first Super Bowl. Roby's big return to open the second half. Thomas' 40-yard return in overtime. And Hartley's game-winning kick. That's why you have to win all three phases of the game. Grade: A

Coaching: Sean Payton was more conservative than usual, but his defensive coordinator more than made up for it. Payton gave up $250,000 of his own salary to get Gregg Williams in the fold. And Williams responded by putting together a defense that stripped and hawked the ball from whistle-to-whistle. The Saints consistently made plays on the ball, including the crucial interception of Favre late in the fourth when the game could have slipped away. Grade: A