NEW ORLEANS -- The "Big Easy" turned into the "Big Queasy" for the Vikings.
The question was a simple one, yet will have a lasting effect on the Vikes fan base: What haunts more: The 12 men in the huddle penalty with 19 seconds left in a tie game or the five turnovers?
"It's hard to win when you turn the ball over like that," Vikings coach Brad Childress said after a 31-28 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Two of Minnesota's five turnovers came in the red zone, a place where they excelled all season. They finished first in the NFL with 350 points when getting inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
One was a fumble by Bernard Berrian early in the fourth quarter at New Orleans' 10-yard line with the Vikings trailing by seven points.
"I didn't feel the ball was slick or anything," Berrian said. "I really can't explain why the ball was on the ground out there a lot. They just did a real good job of attacking the ball."
A possible explanation is running back Adrian Peterson continuing a trend. Lost is his first 100-yard rushing game (122 yards) since Nov. 15. That's because he had two fumbles and a third as a result of a botched handoff exchange, which was officially credited to Brett Favre. Peterson has 22 fumbles since 2007, the most of any non-quarterback.
Peterson took blame for the miscommunication with Favre that was the first of the red zone giveaways.
He added: "I honestly feel like we gave the game away. I was beating myself up for a little bit."
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Entering the NFC Championship Game, no team that had lost the turnover battle this postseason came out on top. But the Vikings -- minus-four in takeaway/giveaway ratio -- were left facing a 3rd-and-10 from New Orleans' 33-yard line with 19 seconds left. Following a timeout, the Vikings were whistled for having too many men in the huddle.
It changed Childress' strategy.
"I would've run it again [without the penalty]," he said.
Possessing the NFL's highest-rated kicker in the regular season among players with at least 20 attempts (92.9 percent conversation rate) -- Ryan Longwell -- Childress' line of thinking made sense. Longwell has connected on 22 field goals from 50-plus yards during his career. He is perfect from 50-plus yards in his last eight attempts.
"In pregame, we hit from 53 [yards], but those were all hitting the net, which is 7, 8 yards back," Longwell said.
However, the penalty took a potential 53-yard, go-ahead opportunity attempt to a possible 58-yarder after a conservative play call. As good as Longwell is, that distance forced Childress to pass it. That's when Favre was intercepted by cornerback Tracy Porter and the toss of a coin sealed their fate.
"All the mistakes we made. They were mistakes that we are not known for making," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "We should've won that game."
But they did not and with it, the Vikings are now 0-3 in NFC Championship Games since 1998, and still have not won a Super Bowl (0-4). It is a franchise that is left to suffer -- again.
Each Vikings player had this message attached to his locker stall: "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. ... Our time is now."
Unfortunately, the time that came was the end of the season. Another season in which the team's followers are left hanging.