A silent crowd made its way out of the Superdome after yet another playoff heartbreak. For the second year in a row, the road team—the underdog— ran around the field, celebrating a walk-off victory over the Saints.
This year it was a four-yard overtime touchdown pass from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to Kyle Rudolph that dashed the playoff hopes for the Saints, with a final score of 26-20.
For a while, this game looked like a classic New Orleans Saints football game. Any dedicated fan knows the Saints play down to the competition, give fans heart problems, then pull it out just in time to win the game. And it sure looked that way when the Saints got the ball with less than two minutes left.
The Saints received the ball with just 1:55 left on the clock, and as the sure-fire Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees trotted out on the field, everything seemed cued up for a perfect ending. The Vikings had ripped out the hearts of Saints fans just two years prior, and the Saints offense could repay the favor with just one more touchdown drive. But alas, they couldn’t do it, as their potential game-winning drive was thwarted by an Alvin Kamara false start. There was a 10-second run-off that followed, forcing them to settle for a field goal and an OT period.
The game started out great for the Saints, as the defense forced an early turnover, helping the offense cash in on an easy three points to start the game. The Vikings quickly tied it back up, and took momentum going into the second quarter.
The second quarter turned into the Taysom Hill show, as he made three show-stopping plays in a row. First a 10 yard run on third down to move the chains, then a 50 yard pass to Deonte Harris down to the goal line, and made a key block on the Alvin Kamara touchdown the next play.
It looked as if the Saints were finally hitting their groove but the Vikings came right back and punched the Saints in the mouth. Just before the half, Minnesota took a 13-10 lead with a field goal and Dalvin Cook touchdown. The Vikings thought the half would end quietly but a Deonte Harris kick return all the way out to the Minnesota 45 yard line indicated differently. Drew Brees connected on a quick pass to Michael Thomas to bring the Saints well within field goal range.
A 43-yarder felt almost inevitable from the highest paid kicker in NFL history, Wil Lutz. But again, the Saints faced postseason adversity when he hooked the field goal to the right, keeping the Saints down three going into half.
Coming out of half, one would’ve expected more urgency from the Saints with their season on the line, but the offense looked out-of-whack and inconsistent. It was only a matter of time before the Vikings took advantage. That time came with three minutes left in the third quarter, when Cook found the end zone, giving the Vikings a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter.
The urgency that fans were looking for finally came on a fourth quarter drive from the Saints, ending with another big play from Taysom Hill—this time a 20-yard touchdown catch, putting the Saints down by just three. The Saints began to dominate the Vikings offense, suffocating them into punting multiple times in the last 10 minutes of regulation.
The Saints offense on the other hand was not doing as well. Late in the fourth quarter, after a promising start to a drive, the offensive line, which struggled all game, allowed Brees to be sacked, causing him to fumble and turn the ball over. Once again, the Saints defense stepped up, giving the offense a chance to win the game. But the offense only sent it to overtime with a Lutz field goal, which he put through the uprights.
Overtime was one-sided, with the Vikings methodically driving down the field, until they dealt a back breaker to the Saints defense. Kirk Cousins made an $84 million throw by dropping it on a dime to Adam Thielen at the goal line, which then set up a Kyle Rudolph walk off touchdown for the Vikings. Purple-clad players stormed the field in excitement, as Saints players looked around confused, throwing their helmet and hands in the air looking for an OPI. The touchdown sucked the air out of the dome, and Saints fans experienced the all-too familiar feeling of confusion and heartbreak for the third straight year. The Dome was the quietest it’s ever been. Meanwhile, coach Sean Payton made his way to the locker room to deliver yet another emotional speech, which, by this point, he must be getting pretty good at.
After yet another heartbreaking playoff loss, Saints fans are left to wonder how much longer this core roster can be kept together. And if it can’t be kept together for much longer, they will be left wondering what-could-have-been in these three years, as the Saints might have wasted arguably the best overall roster in the league three seasons in a row.
With whatever shape their roster is in, the Saints will return to action in seven months when the preseason of the 2020 NFL season begins. Until then, they have some regrets to parse out and some wounds to lick.