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Superdome Salvation!

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever been in a situation where no one thought you would succeed, except you? And maybe even in the middle of the night, when you woke up in a cold sweat, and it was just you, your thoughts, and your fears...you weren’t even sure?

When I was 21 I applied to become an Army Helicopter pilot. No one—my Mom, my Dad, my family, my dog that I didn’t even own yet—literally no one in my life—thought I could do it. My Dad, God love him, laughed when I told him what my plan was. Everyone was barking in my ear to give it up, I had no shot, and that I was nuts to even think it was a possibility. And look, they had ample evidence to say they were right and I was wrong.

If you looked at me, and the life I had led up until that moment, there wasn’t a lot there to make you think I’d even get accepted into flight school, much less graduate. I was immature, undisciplined, and had been kind of a troubled kid. In the defense of my parents, friends, and other family—the experts, if you will—they all had sound reasons that said the chances of me becoming a helicopter pilot was about the same as Spergon Wynn making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But...I believed in me, even if no one else did. I didn’t give two hoots in Hell what anyone said, and every time someone told me to give it up and just take the L, as it were, it drove me harder. One more push up, one more lap, one more test...whatever it took for me to realize what I wanted, I was going to do.

All I needed was a shot, and a undying belief in myself. To this day, I can’t explain it, but I knew as sure as the Sun sets in the West that if I got a shot, I would make the most of the opportunity.

And so it was for the Minnesota Vikings today. They travelled down to The Big Easy, and no one, and I mean NO ONE, was giving them a chance. They were an eight point underdog, they had been written off by everyone from local media to the NFL and their initial playoff promo that excluded Minnesota and the Eagles, and there were rumors starting to percolate that if this game went as South as the Vikings did to play this game, the Mike Zimmer era would come to an ignominious end.

But Zimmer and the Vikings shut out all the noise, went into a postseason House of Horrors for the Vikings, and got it done. For all the narratives that had been established about the Vikings, Kirk Cousins, and Mike Zimmer, Minnesota went down to the swamp and ended up playing some pretty sweet music, didn’t they, Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Goin’ down to the swamp

Gonna watch ol’ Thielen make a play

Well, I’m goin’ down to the swamp

Gonna watch ol’ Thielen make a play

You know when Kirky throws that bullet

Gonna go and play near ‘Frisco Bay

SWAMP SWAMP SWAMP SWAMP MUSIC

The SMR that changed Adam Thielen from a junk bond to a blue chip and don’t you dare question me on it follows.

Blue Chips

Dalvin Cook, RB: One of the keys to the Vikings winning this game was Dalvin Cook. Looking healthy for the first time in 6-7 weeks, Cook ran strong, scored two touchdowns, and had a heck of a game against one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL.

Kirk Cousins, QB: I don’t know if there’s anyone I’m happier for on this team more than Kirk Cousins. After listening to The Narrative...every game, every year, he is finally able to shut everyone up. I don’t know about you, but if you can turn this into liquid form and shoot it onto my veins, hit me up and let me know how:

Everson Griffen, DE: Griffen made his presence felt early. The Vikings fumbled on their first offensive series, and the Saints took that turnover and drove from the Minnesota 37 down to the four. On third and goal, Griff broke through and sacked Drew Brees, who is 0-1 lifetime against Kirk Cousins in the playoffs, for a seven yard loss. New orleans had to settle for a field goal, and the Vikings were able to absorb the first punch New Orleans threw.

Adam Thielen, WR: When I start writing my SMR, what I usually do is write the outline, and as I watch the game I sort of start putting players in the various categories, and add a note here and there to support my reasoning. I can honestly say, after 10 years of writing this column, Thielen is the first player that has been has been moved from a junk bond, a buy/sell, a solid investment, and then a blue chip in one game. He started off poorly, fumbling on the Vikings first drive, following that up with a holding call that nullified a good play (ticky tack call though), and then dropping a pass that would have been a first down. But he made a couple catches for first downs to move up to buy/sell, was a solid investment after that big catch in the third quarter on the drive that led to Cook’s second TD, and then BOOM:

In the moment, color commentator Troy Aikman said it was the biggest throw of Cousins’ career, and I think that’s accurate. I would also submit that was the biggest catch of Thielen’s career, too. He had an insane catch against the Saints in the 2017 playoffs to get them into field goal range late, but this was flat out incredible. We’ve all probably made some stupid over the shoulder catch in the office goofing off or in a pickup game on a playground somewhere, but to do THAT in this kind of moment? Incredible. After a really slow start, Thielen ended up with 7 catches for 129 yards, and was a huge reason why the Vikings won this game.

Kyle Rudolph, TE: Rudolph had been relegated to a blocking role he wasn’t really accustomed with for a good part of the year, and he did well, for the most part. But today, he made the catch of his career, snagging a pass on third and goal from Cousins (who is 1-0 lifetime against Drew Brees in the playoffs) in overtime that was 100% not offensive pass interference, Saints apologists aside:

Danielle Hunter, DE: I credited Griff with that first sack of Brees, but it was later changed to both Griffen and Hunter each getting half a sack. As big as that play was, though, his strip of Drew Brees in the fourth quarter might have been bigger. In the fourth quarter, with Minnesota clinging to a 20-17 lead and the Saints with all the momentum and driving to take the lead, with the ball on the Vikings 20, Hunter broke through and sacked Brees, causing him to fumble the ball. Jalyn Holmes recovered it, and the Vikings stopped the Saints from either tying the game or taking the lead with around four minutes left. HUGE moment in the game.

Solid Investments

Mike Zimmer, head coach: Last Sunday night, I was admittedly pretty discouraged about the Vikings playoff chances. But then I saw that stupid playoff promo video the NFL produced that omitted the Vikes, and over the next couple days there was just a ton of disrespectful crap said about Minnesota and this game. Then when I looked at the most recent games between the Vikes and Saints and did a little digging, I found that Minnesota played the Saints really tough. And I started to think Zimmer might have had a few tricks up his sleeve, and he did. He orchestrated a phenomenal defensive gameplan against the Saints. They forced two turnovers, held Michael Thomas to 70 yards on seven catches, and Drew Brees to only 208 yards passing.

He also had to put up with a lot of speculation about whether or not this would be his last game as Vikings head coach if the Vikings lost in embarrassing fashion, like many people thought could happen. Zim, your thoughts on that?

If there’s a critique, it kind of felt the Vikes went in a ‘play not to lose’ mode late in the game, but to their credit, once OT started, they went balls out to win. And they did.

Anthony Harris, S: Harris had a huge interception of Drew Brees right before halftime today, and you could make an argument THAT was the biggest play of the day. He caught the ball on the Vikes 25, returned it to the Saints 45, and Minnesota converted and scored a TD on a Dalvin Cook run. It was a huge momentum shift, as Minnesota took a 13-10 lead into the locker room, as opposed to being down 10-6 or worse if that drive ended up in points. How good has Ant been?

Xavier Rhodes, CB: Admittedly, Rhodes started off poorly. Early in the game he got beat bad for a huge gain, and like he did in Seattle, it looked like he started chirping with Harrison Smith on the sideline. But by God, Rhodes ended up having a pretty good game after that. He had one or two pass break ups, allowed almost no YAC after his receivers caught passes, no big gains after the big play, and he had a really gutty sequence in the third quarter. The Vikes had a 13-10 lead and had the Saints pinned deep. On second down, Brees hit Alvin Kamara for a five yard gain, and Rhodes and Anthony Barr trucked Kamara, pushing him out of bounds for a five yard gain. Rhodes banged up his shoulder on the play, but stayed on the field and broke up the third down pass intended for Michael Thomas. It as a huge three and out, and the Vikes scored a TD on the ensuing drive.

Junk Bonds

No one. Seriously? You want me to be ‘that guy’ today? Sorry, I don’t have takes that hot. Let’s enjoy one of the biggest wins in franchise history, and focus on the 49ers starting tomorrow.

Buy/Sell

Buy: There was contact on the Rudolph touchdown. Hi, welcome to the NFL, both players were jockeying for position. If you want to say there was a foul on Rudolph there, you could just as easily say there was defensive holding while Rudy was still on his route. Honestly, I thought that although there were a few bad calls in the game, they weren’t tilted to favor one team or the other. For all the complaining we rightfully make about NFL officiating, I thought the ref crew did a good job and let the players play.

Sell: It was offensive pass interference. Just shut up with that weak ass sauce. Like I said above, if you call PI on Rudolph, you HAVE to call either defensive holding or PI on the linebacker covering him, because you can make a strong argument Rudolph was creating separation because he wasn’t allowed a clean break on his route by the defender.

Buy: Stefon Diggs, wide receiver. Loved the passion Diggs had on the sideline, and it seemed weird that the Vikings didn’t look his way more today.

Sell: Stefon Diggs, running back. But...you know, let’s not look at him as a running back. That play never feels like it’s going to work...and it didn’t again today.

Buy: The Saints season is over. I can’t tell you how much pure, unadulterated joy it gives me knowing that smug jackass Sean Payton had his season end three years in a row, in heartbreaking fashion, and two of those came at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings.

Sell: The Vikings season is over. It is far from over. The Vikes showed a ton of fight today and punched the Saints in the mouth while punching their ticket to San Francisco. The 49ers present another huge challenge, but if the Vikes can continue this kind of play, they’re going to be a tough out.

Quote of the Week

My wife doesn’t watch a lot of sports. She’s not a big football fan, but she’s sympathetic to my plight as a Vikings fan. Today, for some reason, she decided to sit and watch the game with me. There were the usual twists and turns, the peaks and valleys, and when it looked like Dalvin Cook had fumbled and the Saints returned it for a TD (which was overturned), she looked at me and said ‘I can’t take this’ and went upstairs.

Two minutes later, when she realized it wasn’t a fumble, she was back, watching the game, all the way to the end. When it was over, she turned to me and said:

‘Honey, why do you put yourself through this every week? I don’t know how you do it.’

Me either, baby. Me either.

So, Vikes win and we’re on to San Francisco. Let’s do it all again next week.