As Coach Sean Payton is wont to say, this one won't go down easy.
For the third consecutive postseason, the New Orleans Saints lost on the final play; this time, a 4-yard touchdown pass in overtime as sixth-seeded Minnesota ended New Orleans' season in a 26-20 decision Sunday in their Wild Card game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints (13-4) simply couldn't pull it all together at once against the Vikings. They couldn't generate enough offense, couldn't produce enough timely stops and ultimately, couldn't make enough plays to advance to the divisional round.
OFFENSE: The Saints turned it over twice against the Vikings, an interception and lost fumble by quarterback Drew Brees, after having turned it over an NFL-record low eight times during the regular season. Minnesota turned the interception into a valuable touchdown. But, just as much, the Vikings won the battle up front; Brees was sacked three times, hit seven times and hurried as often as he had been at any point this season. Rhythm is impossible to develop when the line isn't winning its battle and the quarterback is being pushed around as a result of that. It wasn't a routine day for the passing game (227 net passing yards, 50 of them on a pass by No. 3 quarterback Taysom Hill). New Orleans wouldn't have had much of a running game if not for Hill, who gained 50 yards on four carries (New Orleans totaled 97 yards on 17 carries), and while 4 of 11 on third-down conversions isn't awful, it wasn't enough on a day like Sunday.
DEFENSE: Some of the numbers were more than acceptable: 362 yards allowed, three sacks, 3.4 yards per carry. But Minnesota gashed the Saints for 136 rushing yards, which allowed the Vikings to stay on schedule offensively. Dalvin Cook (28 carries, 94 yards) and the offensive line were much more effective than those numbers. Kirk Cousins completed timely passes (19 of 31 for 242 yards and a touchdown, without an interception). And if you add in the fact that the Vikings converted an alarming 10 of 18 third-down chances, it makes perfect sense that Minnesota ran 20 more offensive plays (74 to 54) and dominated time of possession (36:56-27:24). New Orleans forced a turnover (Janoris Jenkins forced the fumble, Vonn Bell recovered it) but New Orleans only produced a field goal from it and couldn't string together enough consistency. Twenty points allowed in regulation usually is a good thing for the Saints but, unfortunately, they needed to be better than that against the Vikings.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutz missing a 43-yard field goal wide right was a shocker, and kept the Saints from pulling into a 13-13 tie at halftime. Other than that, there weren't many negatives tied to the units. Lutz's 49-yarder at the end of regulation sent the game to overtime, and returner Deonte Harris returned a kickoff 54 yards to put the Saints in position for Lutz to attempt the 43-yarder. The Vikings weren't as eager to kick off to the All-Pro after that. New Orleans finished off strong in kick coverage, allowing 17 yards on two punt returns and three yards on Minnesota's one kickoff return.