Kirk Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph with a 4-yard fade on third-and-goal in overtime, and the Minnesota Vikings pulled out a 26-20 victory over the favored Saints in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday.
The latest disappointing end for the Saints (13-4) came nearly a year after New Orleans lost in the NFC championship game to the Los Angeles Rams in a game marred by missed Rams penalties late in regulation. This time, replays on video boards showed a possible push-off by Rudolph against defensive back P.J. Williams moments before he jumped to snag the winning catch.
NFL president of officiating Al Riveron said the league reviewed numerous replay angles, and while they saw contact by both players, “none of that contact rises to the level of a foul.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said the Vikings “deserved to win.”
Dalvin Cook gained 130 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns after missing the last two regular-season games with a shoulder injury. Cousins finished with 242 yards and one TD passing.
New Orleans trailed by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter but forced overtime with Drew Brees’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill and Wil Lutz’s 49-yard field goal with 2 seconds left.
Hill was the Saints’ leading rusher with 50 yards and Alvin Kamara was held to 21 yards rushing on seven carries.
Minnesota’s defense forced Brees into two turnovers — one game after the Saints had finished the regular season with an NFL record-low eight. Brees also was sacked three times and finished 26 of 33 for 208 yards, one TD and an interception.
The Saints were threatening with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Danielle Hunter sacked Brees, who lost the ball. It was recovered by defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes on the Minnesota 36.
Saints safety Vonn Bell, back from a knee injury that sidelined him three games, helped set up the opening scoring chance of the game when he recovered Thielen’s fumble. But Everson Griffen’s sack of Brees on third-and-goal limited Minnesota’s damage to a field goal.
The Vikings prepare for next weekend’s trip to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that, like the Saints, went 13-3 in the regular season.