New York Jets 17, Indianapolis Colts 30.
Mark Sanchez had an amazing game first half (5-7, 124 yards 2 TDs) for the Jets, but that didn't matter when Peyton Manning was having a great second half (plus a TD drive with under 2 minutes to go in the first half) for the Colts. The Jets looked to be getting all the breaks en route to a 17-6 lead by the 2 minute warning of the first half. Then the league's MVP decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. Manning missed Dallas Clark and then hit Austin Collie three (3) straight times to slash right through the Jets secondary and trim the Jets' lead to 17-13 before halftime. To recap, the Jets went from in control to out of the game in 58 seconds and 4 plays. The number 1 defense of the Jets continued to have major problems defending passes thrown by Manning in the second half. Add to that the return of Sanchez the Regular (51.5 second half passer rating) and the Jets got exactly 0 points in the second half while giving up 17 points (and 24 unanswered points going back to the first half). Manning finished the game 26/39 for 377 yards and 3 TDs (Manning now has 7 such 300+ yard playoff games--most all-time). Neither teams' running game was impressive. The Colts essentially stopped trying to run the ball once Joe Addai fumbled in the first half and it gave the Jets 3 points. The Jets running game lost Shonn Greene early in the second half which really hurt the total offensive production. Greene doesn't play defense so it is hard to say that his exit means much in the grand scheme of the way the game turned out. There are just some days when Manning is being unreasonable, and this was one of them. The Colts are going back to Miami.
Minnesota Vikings 28, New Orleans Saints 31, OT.
Brett Favre had the Vikings in field goal position to win the game. The Vikings took a penalty for breaking the huddle with 12 men. They were still kind of in field goal range.
And then that happened.
The Saints then won the OT coin toss, got some more lucky breaks (more on this theme below) with penalties and booth reviews and got in field goal range. And...boom goes the dynamite. Black and Gold Super Bowl.
So how was that sequence set up? Before the second Favre INT, the Vikings gift wrapped this game for the Saints a few times (make that 4 times, 3 fumbles and 1 INT). Near the end of the first half the Vikings could have broke a 14-14 tie. Standing at the Saints 10 yard line with a minute remaining after a Saints timeout, Favre could't hand the ball off/Adrian Peterson forgot how to take a handoff and the Saints recovered a fumble. By the middle of the 3rd quarter, Favre's pants had already been on the ground many times from the Saints rush. He was so intent on avoiding sacks (and he did a great job of that), he forced a ball into triple coverage and it was picked off at the Saints 28. Joe Buck was busy bringing on the inevitable right before the INT. Favre got hit high and low on the play and was rolling around on the Superdome turf following the double impact. Speaking of Double Impact, this is about what Favre looked like after too many of his throws. Breesus was well short of his usual performance but still managed a 106.5 QB rating, no INTs or fumbles lost and 3 TD passes. Drew Brees will need to be much better (his WRs share much of the blame for dropping catchable passes) in order to beat the Colts, but he did enough on Sunday to not lose the game for the Saints. Just as Brett Favre finally returned to form (he is all alone in first place with 30 career playoff INTs, he's also first in regular season play with 315, if you were wondering), Reggie Bush took back his jersey from whomever was wearing it last week. He did score a TD on a pirouette past the pylon after a catch. This maneuver only atoned for a muffed punt in the second quarter which set up the Vikings on the doorstep of the endzone (Bush was bailed out by the first of many Vikings fumbles). Otherwise, Bush was ineffective and had limited touches--probably for the best in retrospect. Adrian Peterson finished the game with 122 yards rushing and 3 TDs but also had 2 or 3 (depending if you put the first fumble on Favre or Peterson) drive killing fumbles. Here's some stats to help you comprehend the massiveness of the Vikings meltdown. Vikings first downs: 31, Saints first downs 15. Vikings total yards: 475, Saints total yards: 257. The Saints came nowhere close to 100 rushing yards, committed 9 penalties for 88 yards and only ran 55 plays to the Vikings 82. The Saints didn't do much with the 5 Vikings turnovers they received and the Vikings, as described above, did nothing with the Bush fumble. Yet, the Saints won this game watched a Viking funeral.
Former Tiger in the NFL Gameball, League Championship edition: Saints WR Devery Henderson, 4 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD. One of his catches was on the game winning OT drive.
So the Super Bowl XLIV matchup is set: Colts v. Saints. These were two teams that won a ton of games in a row and then bailed on their regular season in the last few weeks. Usually that kind of thing means you don't make the Super Bowl, but this is apparently a special year. I don't expect the Colts to implode as the Vikings did, so I'm picking the New Orleans boy (Peyton Manning) over the New Orleans franchise. Either way, LSU will continue its amazing streak (2001-2009) of funneling players to the eventual Super Bowl champion. The Colts have former Tiger RB Joe Addai. The Saints have three former Tigers: WR Devery Henderson, DB Randall Gay and DT Marlon Favorite.