Sure, Minnesota TE pushed off on winning TD, but Saints lost because they got whipped

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
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NEW ORLEANS — Forget the conspiracies, the controversies, the calls, the no-calls, or the freakish plays. Not this time.

The Saints just got pummeled for three quarters and did not have enough to come back all the way in the fourth, and lost to Minnesota, 26-20, in overtime Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the NFC Wildcard round of the playoffs.

Yes, this was much more simple. As simple as a kick in the butt. There will be no rule changes at the next NFL meetings. It was just a loss. Here are three takeaways from it from a funeral-like dome.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

1. JUST DOMINATION: The Dome fell deafeningly silent at 3:45 p.m. when Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 4-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal in overtime.

Rudolph clearly pushed off cornerback P.J. Williams just before the catch, but it was more of a nudge, and that happens often. It was not alarmingly flagrant. Williams was also pushing a bit, too.

"There is contact by both players, but none of the contact rises to the level of a foul," senior vice president of NFL officiating Al Riveron said after the game. "This is consistent with what we've done all year long. We left the ruling on the field. We let it stand."

He is correct. The no-call was akin to basketball when both players are pushing each other a bit for a rebound, but neither gains an advantage. No harm, no foul.

This was not obviously interference such as late in the NFC Championship Game last year here when Los Angeles Rams' cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman tackled Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis and admitted minutes later that he expected a flag.

And the Rams went on to win in overtime. This was different. The Saints (13-4) did not deserve to win this game as they did last season against the Rams. Minnesota (11-6) deserved to win it as it dominated New Orleans for three quarters and held on, and the Vikings will play at San Francisco (13-3) on Saturday.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) pulls in the game winning touchdown pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during overtime of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in New Orleans. The Vikings won 26-20. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

There were no freakish plays by the Vikings, such as when they beat the Saints, 29-26, two seasons ago in the Divisional round at Minnesota on a gift touchdown for wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

And this may be more frustrating than getting robbed in a way as there is no excuse. The Saints just got beat by a better team on this day, and the playoffs are all about playing your best on this day.

Through three quarters, Minnesota had New Orleans out-gained 277 yards to 158 and had 16 first downs to nine. 

2. VIKINGS RAN OVER SAINTS: The Saints came in with the No. 4 rush defense in the NFL with 91.3 yards allowed a game, and Minnesota dominated them with 136 yards on 40 carries. Running back Dalvin Cook — not a superstar by any means — gained 94 yards on 28 carries. No back this season has had a better day against New Orleans.

Related: Saints did not play as well as they did to end regular season

"Dalvin is something," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He can move your defense with the wide zone and play action. I thought we fit it pretty well at times. And at other times, if you're not on top of the edge or set the edge properly and fit it properly, he's talented enough to make what is a 5-yard miss become a bigger play."

3. DREW BREES IS EITHER HUMAN OR 41 OR BOTH: Drew Brees, who makes 41 on Jan. 15, played one of his worst games in years.

He threw deep, which is problematic enough at times lately, and he threw into a crowd for wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. late in the second quarter with a 10-6 lead. In that crowd was safety Anthony Harris, who came in second in the NFL with six interceptions. And he grabbed his seventh. Then he returned it 30 yards to the Saints' 45-yard line.

Minnesota took a 13-10 lead seven plays later with 27 seconds to go as Cook scored over right guard from five yards out.

After three quarters, the Saints were down 20-10, and their only touchdown was set up courtesy of a 50-yard completion — not by Brees, but by Taysom Hill to Deonte Harris to the 4-yard line. And Alvin Kamara scored for a 10-3 Saints' lead with 9:23 to go before halftime.

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Entering the fourth quarter, Brees was a miserable-for-his-standards 13-of-19 passing for 79 yards with the interception. That is 4.1 yards an attempt.

"We had a hard time staying on the field," he said.

The Vikings finished running 74 plays to 54.

Related: Saints' offense ends season not getting to many of their plays

Brees got things together in the final period, finishing 26-of-33 overall, but still for only 208 yards with a 20-yard touchdown to Hill and directing a last-minute field goal drive for the tie. But it was too late.

"It wasn't until the fourth quarter that things got cranked up," he said.

Brees nearly threw another interception. And his ridiculous fumble at crunch time killed the Saints.

Just after Hill rambled 28 yards to the Minnesota 20 with 4:26 to play and the Saints down 20-17 with the Dome roaring, Brees just dropped the ball. Yes, he was under pressure from former LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter, who sacked him. But Brees should have held on. Thumb injury residue or not, it was a rookie mistake.

"The fumble was really frustrating," he said. "The ball should have been out of my hands, but the route wasn't run right. Then I was trying to throw the ball away, and he got a piece of it. That shouldn't have happened."

Didn't look like Hunter got a piece of it. Regardless, he can't fumble there. And regardless of what the receiver did or didn't do, he can't fumble there.

All in all, it was a weird day. Brees looked very average, which is strange. Wil Lutz missed a 43-yard field goal as the first half expired that would have tied the game 13-13. He doesn't miss from there. A field goal there could have meant the Saints win 23-20 in regulation.

In the end, New England's Tom Brady, 42, looked very human in a 14-13 loss to Tennessee on Saturday, as did Brees, 40, on Sunday. Like Brady, Brees will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Brady could go elsewhere as could Brees. It is unlikely either will retire. And it is unlikely the Saints will not re-sign Brees.

"I'm not making any comment on that," Brees said to a question about his future. "I've always taken it one year at a time."

Perhaps the Saints, who lost a playoff opener for the first time since 2010 after winning four straight, did not take these playoffs one game at a time.

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