1. Bradbury, offensive line pancake some Saints
Praise the return of Dalvin Cook, but don’t overlook what his bodyguards up front did as the Vikings beat the Saints 26-20 in overtime in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game at New Orleans. The best block belonged to rookie center Garrett Bradbury, who drove linebacker A.J. Klein a good 7 yards before pancaking him inside the 10-yard line on a 19-yard screen pass to Cook down to the Saints 3. It showed the kind of athleticism and power that get a center drafted in the first round. “I just get out in space and get going because I know Dalvin is going to catch the ball and do something special,” Bradbury said. “Just doing my job. Dalvin is the special one.” After the play, Klein complained to an official that Bradbury was holding. Bradbury interrupted the conversation. “I told him it’s just football; it’s a block,” Bradbury said. “Hands inside. Finish him.”
2. Tackle of the day? Would you guess a kicker?
Who says kickers aren’t athletes? The Vikings’ Dan Bailey not only went 5-for-5 in his place-kicking duties, but he also made quite the move to get to and bring down first-team All-Pro returner Deonte Harris after the rookie broke off a 54-yard kickoff return — a season-long against the Vikings — in the closing seconds of the first half. “Actually, I did not get the kick I wanted, so the return was on me,” said Bailey, whose flat kick was caught at the 1. “So I had to go make the tackle.” With Harris downed at the Vikings 45, the Saints didn’t have enough time to go for a touchdown. Then Wil Lutz missed a 43-yard field goal as the Vikings held their 13-10 lead. Harris’ three other returns averaged 26.3 yards.
3. Quiet Rudolph joins glitzy cast of playoff tight ends
The playoffs are sprinkled with perhaps the deepest group of quality tight ends the league has ever seen. Kyle Rudolph’s name isn’t one that’s going to reach the tip of a tongue before the likes of George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Zach Ertz. But when the ball is at the 4-yard line in overtime, the 6-6, big-mitted veteran is still an appetizing target. Especially with 6-foot cornerback P.J. Williams covering him and unable to outjump him in the corner of the end zone on the second walkoff postseason win over the Saints in three seasons. “I played a lot of basketball in my life,” Rudolph said. “[The Saints] brought all-out pressure and Kirk [Cousins] gave me a chance. Just go up and get the rebound. Once they brought pressure, I knew the ball was coming.” It was Rudolph’s only catch after halftime.
4. All-Pro anticipation by All-Pro Kendricks
Another game, another All-Pro-caliber play on third down for Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. This one came on the first possession of the second half. The Vikings were clinging to a three-point lead when the Saints faced third-and-1 from their 44. Kendricks, who was voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro last week, knew EXACTLY what was coming. “Their formation was a little bit condensed and I knew they only had a yard to get,” Kendricks said. “When [running back Alvin Kamara] was motioning, he kind of slowed and was tempo-ing [his pace] to match the snap.” Kendricks said he and Anthony Barr quickly flipped sides because of Kendricks’ hunch. “I just guessed that they were going to run a sweep to the right,” he said. And they did. And Kendricks blew it up. Jaleel Johnson tackled Kamara for a 6-yard loss.
5. Officials overlook Rhodes’ personal foul
The Vikings had four penalties for only 26 yards, 1 yard more than their season low in Kansas City. As any Saints fan worth his or her hatred for NFL officials will tell you, the zebras missed at least one call. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes got away with lowering his helmet into Kamara’s facemask as the running back was being tackled by Barr near the sideline after a gain of 9 yards on second-and-20 from the Saints 9. The Superdome loudly bemoaned the blown call that would have given the Saints a first down at the 33. Instead, the Saints posted the first of two straight three-and-outs. Fans didn’t like the league office overturning a Saints fumble return for a touchdown or the quick confirmation of Rudolph’s game-winning touchdown. But, unlike the missed call on Rhodes, those other two were good calls.