All-Pro safety Harrison Smith and the Vikings defense weren't in the mood to celebrate when they stuffed Saints running back Alvin Kamara for a 1-yard loss with 29 seconds left in Sunday's 29-24 NFC divisional playoff win at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"At the time, it was a deflating feeling," Smith said.


Three plays earlier, the Vikings led 23-21 and had the Saints staring at fourth-and-10 from the Vikings 46-yard line. Rather than attempt a 64-yard field goal, Saints coach Sean Payton gambled on the Hall of Fame-bound right arm of Drew Brees.

Good choice.

Brees found Willie Snead beating nickel corner Mackensie Alexander along the left sideline. He threw the perfect ball for a 13-yard gain.

That put the Saints in field-goal range. Everything after that was designed to kill time and set up Wil Lutz for the game-winner.

"We were upset because we gave up the field goal," Smith said of Lutz's 43-yarder to give the Saints a 24-23 lead.

But …

The third-down stop came with enough time for the Modern Miracle at the Bank, a 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs as time expired.

"Looking back on that third-down stop," said Smith, "that's a big-time play. Obviously."

Since Brees and Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints rank No. 1 in the league in third-down conversions at 46.7 percent. The Patriots and Tom Brady are second at 44.1 percent.

But on this day, against a Vikings defense that set the NFL record for best third-down conversions (25.2 percent), the Saints converted just 2-for-9. As they were falling behind 17-0 in the first half, they were 0-for-4 for minus-10 yards on a third-and-10 sack by Smith.

The Vikings had another stop on third-and-1 in the first quarter. Running back Mark Ingram tried the stout middle of the Vikings defense. He was held to no gain after being hit by middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, cornerback Trae Waynes, nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and, finally, cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

The last third-down stop won't be talked about much considering the way this game ended. But had the Vikings not held there, the Saints could have run the clock down to just a few seconds before kicking the game-winner. The Vikings had only one timeout left at that point.

Once again, the Saints tried the middle of the Vikings defense. Understandably so, they gambled on the percentages that say the Vikings weren't going to throw a 61-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining.

They lost. Strong safety Anthony Harris, who was only in the game because starter Andrew Sendejo was going through the NFL's concussion protocol, blitzed off the left side of the defense. He and defensive end Brian Robison were credited with making the stop.

"Coach [Mike Zimmer] just put us in the right call, and I went out and executed," Harris said. "I'm blitzing there. Just trying to hit my gap off the edge. The tight end tried to block out, but I just swam over him."

Robison said the Vikings pretty much knew the Saints would run straight ahead to either get the first down or to keep the clock running and force the Vikings to call their second timeout.

Up to that point, the defense had made some tremendous plays. Sendejo had a brilliant diving interception. Everson Griffen had tipped a pass that Barr intercepted. Smith and Griffen each had a sack.

But the play that ultimately set up the smashing of Vikings' last-minute curses was that third-and-1 stop with 29 seconds left.

"You knew they just had to run the ball up the middle," Robison said. "Up front, we just tried to gain penetration. And our linebackers came downhill.

"It's 1 yard. You don't know it, but you kind of try to figure that they're going to run it. They got two really good running backs back there. But we just made the play and they didn't."