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Vikings deal Saints fresh playoff heartbreak

AP

After tight end Kyle Rudolph emerged from a purple swarm of celebrating Vikings near the corner of the end zone, he took an opportunity to mock those who doubted quarterback Kirk Cousins’ ability to come through in the clutch.

“I’m just glad Kirk can’t win big games, apparently,” Rudolph said. “We proved that one wrong today.”

Cousins hit 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.

Cousins lost his only previous playoff start in 2015 with Washington, came up short of a playoff berth in the final regular-season game a year ago and struggled in a handful of other high-profile regular-season night games.

Yet Cousins eschewed an opportunity to gloat after his pass to Rudolph — and a 43-yarder to Adam Thielen at the Saints 2-yard line three plays earlier — helped the Vikings (11-6) advance to play top seed San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday. It was Minnesota’s first road playoff win since Jan. 9, 2005, when the Vikings beat the rival Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round.

“I’m just happy we won,” Cousins said. “It was a great, great game, two good football teams.”

Saints fans begged to differ after seeing New Orleans’ season end in overtime in the Superdome for a second straight year.

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 contest 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.”

Minnesota running back 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.

“Being a fourth-round pick and kind of working your way up in the league — now you win a playoff game. Guess what? You look around and you realize there’s more mountains to climb,” Cousins said. “You just keep chasing the next mountain and there will always be people who are going to criticize you — and that’s OK.”

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.

“Both defenses played well,” Payton added. “Shoot, here you are in overtime and they made a few plays right there at the end that obviously were significant.”

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 was also sacked three times and finished 26 of 33 for 208 yards, one TD and an interception.

Seahawks 17, Eagles 9

In Philadelphia, Jadeveon Clowney knocked out Carson Wentz. Then, Russell Wilson and Seattle knocked off the Eagles.

Wilson threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf, Marshawn Lynch had a rushing score and the Seahawks beat Philadelphia in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.

“To come back here, back East, it’s a long ways, we were able to do it, pull through,” Wilson said. “We’ve been road warriors and it’s exciting. We’ve got a great defense, too.”

Making his first career playoff start, Wentz lasted two series before exiting with a head injury following a helmet-to-helmet hit from Clowney.

Nick Foles wasn’t around to rescue Philadelphia this time.

“I didn’t intend to hurt him. I hope he’s OK,” Clowney said.

Referee Shawn Smith told a pool reporter: “He was a runner and he did not give himself up. We saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgment, we didn’t rule it a foul.”

Forty-year-old Josh McCown stepped in, becoming the oldest quarterback to make his playoff debut. But he couldn’t lead the Eagles (9-8) into the end zone.

“I didn’t get the job done,” said McCown, who was quite emotional on the field afterward.

Wilson threw for 325 yards and led the team with 45 yards rushing. Metcalf had seven catches for 160 yards.

The Seahawks had a season-high seven sacks from six players.

“We made up our mind to not let them score,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “It was a mental thing more than execution.”