A fumble that was.
A fumble that wasn't.
Two opportunities to take the lead.
Neither panned out.
In a span of five plays in the fourth quarter, the New Orleans Saints experienced a range of emotions that ran from high, to low, to ecstatic, to deflating in their 26-20, overtime loss to Minnesota in their NFC Wild Card playoff game Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints trailed 20-17 with 4:26 left in regulation while in the midst of the first high: first-and-10 from the Vikings' 20-yard line, on the move, within sniffing distance of a lead-taking touchdown. But then came the first low: On that play, quarterback Drew Brees was pressured and hit, and while Danielle Hunter was completing the sack, he struck Brees' right arm and the blow jarred the ball loose from Brees' right hand. Minnesota defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes recovered at the 37.
Four plays later, the next high: On first-and-10 from the Vikings' 47, Saints linebacker A.J. Klein tackled running back Dalvin Cook for an 8-yard loss. And during the wrap-and-roll, Cook lost his handle on the football. The ball popped straight up, Saints safety Vonn Bell caught it in stride and ran 38 yards untouched for what would have been the lead-taking touchdown.
But then, the low: On the wrap-and-roll, Cook's knee touched before he lost possession. Instead of a score, a 7-yard loss and Vikings possession.
The Saints still completed the stop on the drive and forced a punt. And they took that possession to drive for a tying field goal with two seconds left in regulation, to force overtime.
But the potential touchdown drive on offense that was halted by the lost fumble, and the possible fumble return for a touchdown that was negated because the runner was down, were two plays the prevented the Saints from surging ahead and riding the momentum to the finish. They were a pivotal 1-2 punch that didn't go New Orleans' way, on a day when not enough things went New Orleans' way.