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The parallel is amazingly obvious. A week ago, the University of Minnesota had to play a perfect game to beat Augsburg, and the Gophers were Golden, winning the Outback Bowl for the biggest day in Gopher football in about 60 years.
On Sunday, I figured the Minnesota Vikings had to play a perfect game, Kirk Cousins would have to play better than I thought he could play, and the Vikings defense would need a lot of luck to stop Drew Brees from showering them with touchdown passes at New Orleans. Incredibly, the Vikings did it.
The Twin Cities media is going crazy over Cousins, who played well — particularly when he hit Adam Thielen with a 44-yard pass to the New Orleans 2, and then came back with a neat fade lobbed to Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown to eliminate the Saints in a 26-20 classic. But as effective as the Vikings offense was, it was their defense that provided the victory.
This week, everyone is worried about the Vikings chances at San Francisco Saturday against the top-seeded 49ers. But over the past three weeks, the New Orleans Saints were better than the 49ers. And the Vikings will face no foe more imposing than the Saints. I’m a huge Drew Brees fan, and I’ve never seen him look so scattered instead of focused, and that was because the Vikings took away his receivers, stifled his running backs, caused and recovered a fumble by Brees — his first of the season — and intercepted him twice.
Still, Brees came back to throw a touchdown pass and get a field goal with 0:02 left for a 20-20 tie, forcing overtime. Both teams get a chance in overtime, unless the team receiving manages to drive all the way downfield and score a touchdown. A field goal would break the tie, but the Saints would then get a chance. The Vikings didn’t wait. They won the flip, took the ball, and came up with the big plays when needed.
It was a masterful job by the Vikings offensive coaching staff, which devised plays and patterns that opened channels and misdirection routes that allowed the Vikings to gain large bits of ground by both ground and air. And yes, it did take a little luck. Thielen’s catch of a perfectly lobbed Cousins pass gave the Vikings first and goal at the 2, and they moved backwards a yard each for two plays. On third down, Rudolph went into the left side of the end zone, and with a smaller defensive back trying to cover him, Rudolph delivered what looked like
a short little straight-arm. Not a horrible play, but it gave Rudolph an extra step, and he caught the Cousins pass for the game-winning touchdown.
They never reviewed it, and if they had, I have to think they would have called offensive pass interference. But they didn’t, and the Vikings are on their way to San Francisco. I think they can beat the 49ers, and if they can duplicate the performance in New Orleans, they definitely will win.
Meanwhile, th eTennessee Titans went into New England and ended the Patriots season with another amazing game. So now we have the division semifinals, with the Vikings at San Francisco, and the Seattle Seahawks — who beat Philadelphia in Philly — going to Green Bay. The Packers will be favored on the frozen tundra, but I picked the Seahawks to get all the way to the Super Bowl, so I can’t pick against them now. I love Aaron Rodgers, but I think Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in football. On the American side, Tennessee goes to
Baltimore, and will be huge underdogs, but if you haven’t watched Derrick Henry run the ball, you haven’t seen the best running back in the whole league. He had 182 yards against the Patriots, shredding their defense, and will give the Ravens plenty to contend with. That game will be Saturday, along with the Vikings-49ers game, and on Sunday, Seattle is at Green Bay and Houston goes to Kansas City.
I like the Vikings and Seattle on the National side, and Baltimore and Kansas City on the American. Wouldn’t that be a great new scenario?
UMD women stay undefeated in NSIC
If UMD women’s basketball coach Mandy Pearson played softball in her younger days, my guess is she was a catcher, because that’s the pose she strikes whenever her Bulldogs wind up in a game that is tighter than she thinks it should be. It was that way Saturday, when Minnesota-Crookston came to Romano and the Bulldogs jumped ahead 18-9 in the first quarter, then were outscored 26-15 in the second quarter, to trail 35-33 at halftime.
UMD at one point gave up 11 straight points as they watched crooks ton zoom past to take the lead. But in the third quarter, UMD reversed things, sailing from the 35-33 deficit to a 45-38 lead, and then running off a 12-3 burst to take a 45-38 lead after three quarters. But the fun was yet to come.
I’ve been hoping to get good photos of Brooke Olson, a smooth sophomore from Rice Lake, Wis., who I think is the best clutch scorer on the team. On several tries, however, Pearson has pulled Olson promptly in her get-everybody-involved style of substitution, and it happened again Saturday, which might be one reason for the weird exchanges of scoring runs. Olson, who is 6-foot-2, started the fourth quarter, and scored on a drive, then made two free throws. That gave her a team-high 18 points and she already had a team-high seven rebounds — six of them on the defensive boards. After another brief break on the bench, Olson came back in and made a dive for a loose ball, and when a Crookston player jumped on her, the refs called the foul on Olson. It was her fifth, and she was banished to the folding chair right next to coach Pearson, who was well into her catcher’s stance, high heels and all.
The game stood 66-66 in the final minute, when Crookston missed a long shot, and missed two free throws, and it inched to 67-67 with 22.6 seconds remaining. Lucky for UMD, Crookston missed enough free throws to avoid pulling away. It was 67-67 when Crookston came up with a rebound and drove for the potential winning bucket, but a weak shot was grabbed underneath by UMD’s Sarah Grow. In the scrap for the rebound, a foul was whistled on Crookston. Grow made the first with 0:04 left, and though she missed the second, the Bulldogs held on for the 68-67 victory.
So the Bulldogs hit the road this week, 8-0, but realizing that after sending Crookston home 1-7, there is no room to take anyone lightly. The Bulldogs are still unbeaten, but the close call might be the incentive they need to stay that way.