Vikings, Saints meet again in Big Easy

Field Level Media

January 01, 2020 at 11:49 pm.

The New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings are very familiar with one another.

When the Saints host the Vikings in an NFL wild-card game Sunday afternoon, it will be the fifth time they have met in the postseason. Minnesota will break a tie with Philadelphia as New Orleans’ most frequent playoff opponent.

“It feels like we’ve played a handful of games,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday.

The Saints and Vikings met three times in a stretch of 25 games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, which included the Vikings’ “Minneapolis Miracle” victory in the divisional round after the 2017 season.

Minnesota won a home game in the 2017 regular season, and New Orleans won a road game in the 2018 season. The teams even met in their 2019 preseason opener back in August.

Of course the game that stands out most was that 2017 playoff meeting in Minneapolis, in which New Orleans rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to take a 24-23 lead with 25 seconds left.

The Saints seemingly were on their way to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game when Case Keenum completed a pass to Stefon Diggs, rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on an attempted tackle and Diggs sprinted to a 61-yard touchdown as time expired.

Minnesota is 3-1 against New Orleans in the playoffs, starting with a 44-10 wild-card victory in the Superdome after the 1987 season in the Saints’ first postseason appearance.

New Orleans’ only victory was pretty memorable also, as it prevailed 31-28 in overtime in the NFC Championship Game in the Superdome, en route to the Saints’ only Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

The Saints bounced back from the playoff loss at Minnesota two years ago to go 13-3 and claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season. They narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl in an overtime loss at home against the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

They almost certainly would have won that game if the officials had called a penalty on a blatant case by pass interference by the Rams late in the fourth quarter. New Orleans put that loss behind it and went 13-3 again this year.

“I think it says a lot about our group to be able to take some of those unfortunate circumstances and be able to turn that into something positive and use that as fuel, use that as a way to bring us closer together and fight through that adversity to bring out the best in all of us,” quarterback Drew Brees said.

The Saints (13-3) were the first NFL team to qualify for the playoffs this season when they captured a third consecutive NFC South title on Thanksgiving night. They were in position to claim a first-round bye and perhaps the top seed in the NFC.

But 10 days after clinching, they lost a 48-46 shootout to San Francisco, and both the 49ers and Green Bay won tiebreakers to claim the first-round byes. New Orleans wound up No. 3.

Minnesota controlled its fate in the NFC North until losing at home to Green Bay in Week 16, as the Packers wrapped up the division title and the Vikings were locked in at No. 6.

Coach Mike Zimmer rested several key players in the regular-season finale, and Minnesota lost to Chicago to finish 10-6.

“I don’t think anybody believes that we can win this game, so we go in there and we slug it out,” said Zimmer, who is 2-2 against New Orleans, including playoffs. “All I really care about is that 53 guys believe.

“It’s important that when you get in games like this, number one, you have to be able to execute. Do what you’ve been doing all along.”

The Vikings expect to be bolstered by the return of Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who missed the last two games because of a shoulder injury.

“I feel refreshed. I’m going to be ready to go,” Cook said. “I’m going to be at full strength. Looking forward to a good football game.”

Cook has rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 53 passes for 519 yards.

Less certain for Minnesota is linebacker Eric Kendricks (quad), who missed Wednesday’s practice after sitting out Week 17. Kendricks tied for the NFL lead among linebackers with 12 pass breakups during the regular season.

For the Saints, cornerback Eli Apple (ankle) and fullback Zach Line (knee) both missed Wednesday’s practice.