NEW ORLEANS, January 25- Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal in over-time to lift New Orleans past Minnesota 31-28 and send the Saints to their first Super Bowl, where they will face Indianapolis.
National Football League icon Brett Favre, the 40-year-old all-time passing leader who came out of retirement twice, saw his dream run fall short thanks to an interception in the final seconds of regulation on Sunday.
New Orleans, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has been inspired by the Saints, who were formed in 1967 and will finally play for a crown when they meet the Colts on February 7 in suburban Miami.
"This stadium used to have holes in it. It used to be wet. It’s not wet anymore," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "This is for the city of New Orleans."
The Saints next face a Colts team led by Peyton Manning, whose father Archie was the first star quarterback for the Saints.
Manning threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns to rally Indianapolis from an 11-point deficit to beat the visiting New York Jets 30-17.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes and guided the Saints on their final drive.
"It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for for a long time," Brees said. "The job is not done yet but obviously we’re going to enjoy this. Now we’ve got to finish it in Miami."
Favre completed 28-of-48 passes for 310 yards and Adrian Peterson ran for three touchdowns but it was not enough to lift the Vikings into their first Super Bowl since 1977.
"Brett did a good job of preparing us for Peyton," Saints star defender Darren Sharper said.
The Saints, with NFL’s best offensive unit, began sudden-death over-time on their own 39-yard line and were aided by two first downs by penalty and another on a fourth-down dive that withstood video review.
Minnesota, one of the NFL’s best at avoiding giveaways, committed five against the Saints, two within 10 yards of the Saints’ goal line and the last when Favre was picked off by Tracy Porter in the dying seconds of regulation to snuff out a scoring threat and force over-time.
Adrian Peterson’s third touchdown run, a two-yarder with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, pulled Minnesota level at 28-28 and set the stage for the tense final drama.
Favre had suffered a left ankle injury late in the third quarter but returned to start the fourth, only to see Percy Harvin lose a fumble that allowed the Saints to seize the lead.
Brees flipped a five-yard pass to Reggie Bush that was first ruled out of bounds just shy of the goal line, but a video replay reversal ruled Bush had the ball in the end zone and New Orleans took a 28-21 lead with 12:39 to play.
The Saints grabbed their first lead at 21-14 on a nine-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas just 2:04 into the third quarter but the Vikings answered midway into the quarter on a one-yard Peterson touchdown run to even the score.
A muffed punt by Bush gave Minnesota the ball at the Saints’ 10-yard line in the final seconds of the second quarter but Peterson lost a fumble and the teams reached half-time deadlocked at 14-14.
Favre flipped a five-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead with 2:11 remaining in the first quarter but New Orleans equalized just 6:41 later on a nine-yard pass from Brees to Devery Henderson.
Peterson opened with scoring on a 19-yard touchdown run just 5:25 into the game but Pierre Thomas took a pass from Brees and completed a 38-yard touchdown play just 3:05 later to pull the Saints level at 7-7.
In Indianapolis, Manning completed 26-of-39 passes, 11 of them to Pierre Garcon for 151 yards and a touchdown, and was the first passer this season with three touchdowns against the Jets’ NFL-best defense as the Colts scored the final 24 points.
"We talked about being patient against these guys. It took some time to figure out what their plan of attack was," Manning said. "We stayed patient, didn’t panic, got a bead on them and beat them with the passing game."
Since moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984, the Colts’ only NFL title came in 2006, when Manning sparked a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the same stadium where they will play for a championship in two weeks.
Manning threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie with 73 seconds remaining in the second quarter, lifting the Colts within 17-13 at half-time.
Manning used precision passing to march the Colts downfield to seize the lead for good early in the second half, connecting with Garcon on a four-yard touchdown pass that gave Indianapolis a 20-17 lead 6:57 into the third quarter.
"Peyton had an outstanding game. Once he had a bead on them he did extremely well," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "This has always been a confident bunch of guys. They don’t panic. They hung in there and played really well."
Manning threw a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Dallas Clark with 8:52 to play, boosting the Indianapolis edge to 10 points.
"When you struggle against Peyton Manning, he will eat you alive," said Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Colts kicker Matt Stover, who at 42 will be the oldest player in Super Bowl history, added a 21-yard field goal with 2:29 to play for the final points.