Battered and beaten, Brett Favre limped off the field for perhaps the last time.
His head down, the pained look on his face was brought on as much by an ill-advised late turnover as it was by a bone-crunching hit from Bobby McCray.
With the NFC championship game tied, the Vikings close to field goal range and mere seconds left, Favre made the kind of mistake he had avoided all season. He threw across his body toward Sidney Rice, and Tracy Porter stepped in front to intercept the pass, ending the Vikings' chances to win Sunday's game in regulation.
The Saints won the coin toss in overtime, and before Favre could take the field, Drew Brees drove them into position for Garrett Hartley's winning field goal that gave the Saints a 31-28 victory and their first Super Bowl berth.
It was a crushing end to an inspiring performance by Favre, who hobbled around the field for the entire final period after a hit by McCray put him on the trainer's table. The NFL's iron man, who has started a record 309 consecutive games, never missed a play and rallied the Vikings from 7 points down in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
He finished with 310 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, the last of which may haunt him for a long, long time. It was somewhat reminiscent of two years ago while he was with the Packers in the NFC title game. Favre threw an interception against the Giants that led to the field goal that put New York in the Super Bowl and started Favre's annual will-he-or-won't-he offseason drama.
After driving the Vikings for the tying score with under 5 minutes to go in regulation, Favre moved Minnesota into Saints territory again as the clock wound down. On third-and-15 from the New Orleans 38, Favre knew the Vikings needed to get closer to give Ryan Longwell a legitimate shot at a game-winning field goal.
So Favre made one more gamble, and lost big. He rolled right, then, instead of scrambling for the yards that might have put Minnesota in field goal range, threw across his body to the left. Porter snagged it to end the threat.
Favre just shook his head, knowing that his best _ and maybe last _ chance to reach the Super Bowl may have just slipped away.
He came out of retirement for the second straight season to join the Vikings with one goal in mind _ getting back to the Super Bowl.
He took a beating all day from the Saints' persistent rush. That 40-year-old body of his will likely look as purple as the Vikings helmet on his head when he wakes up on Monday morning.
He was flattened by McCray late in the third quarter, a crunching hit that put him flat on his back with pain in his left leg. As he lay on the trainer's table, backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was warming up, and it seemed as though his night, and his career, might have been over.
Just like he's done for the past 19 years, Favre got back up and stayed in the game.
He added a few more records to an already endless list of them. Favre surpassed Joe Montana and now holds NFL career playoff records for completions and yards passing.
If this indeed was his last season, what a way to go out.
After an injury-plagued 2008 with the Jets, Favre joined the Vikings and put together his best statistical season.
He set career bests in completion percentage (68.4), quarterback rating (107.2) and fewest interceptions (7), while throwing for 33 TDs and 4,202 yards. The Vikings (12-4) earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, and last week Favre became with the first 40-year-old QB to win a playoff game with a four-touchdown performance against the Cowboys.
How long it takes for him to make up his mind this time around, and how many times it will change before a final conclusion is reached, is anyone's guess.
One thing is certain: The Vikings would be happy to have him back.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.