MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings defense allowed more points and more yards than it had at home all season.
Minnesota's unit still left U.S. Bank Stadium in an ecstatic mood after the Vikings improbable 29-24 win over New Orleans, a victory that sent the Vikings to the NFC Championship against Philadelphia.
"I didn't believe it, I didn't know what happened," Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said of a miraculous game-winning, 61-yard touchdown catch by Stefon Diggs. "I didn't understand that could happen. It doesn't make sense. How does that happen in the NFL? I don't know. I'll take it every time."
Yet even amid all of the elation in the Vikings locker room, Minnesota's defense was quick to point out there was room for improvement after going toe-to-toe with a potent New Orleans offense.
The Vikings entered the postseason as the league's top-ranked defense after allowing just 15.8 points and 275.9 yards per game in the regular season.
And the unit lived up to its reputation, and then some, in the first half, pitching a shutout while limiting the Saints to just 149 yards. That half included a pair of interceptions as safety Andrew Sendejo and Barr.
The Vikings, who posted the NFL's top third-down defense (25.2 percent), also held New Orleans without a third-down conversion on four attempts.
Yet as the Saints slowly chipped away at a 17-0 halftime lead, the Vikings knew they were in for a dogfight against Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
"You don't play a guy like him and the things they do offensively, with the weapons they have, without getting into a fight," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "We knew it wasn't going to be a 17-0 game, (but we) played outstanding on defense in the first half."
The Saints cut into the lead late in the third quarter as Brees fired a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Fewer than five minutes later and after blocking a Ryan Quigley punt to set itself up with favorable field position, New Orleans scored again when Brees found Thomas for a 3-yard touchdown.
After a Kai Forbath field goal pushed Minnesota's lead to 20-14, Brees showed why he's a future Hall of Famer as he led a drive to put the Saints ahead.
Brees connected with Saints running back Alvin Kamara on a 14-yard pass just over the outstretched arms of Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks.
"Honestly, the competitor in me, I couldn't help but think it was on me," Kendricks said. "I wanted to make that play, but they made a great play."
Forbath gave Minnesota a lead with under two minutes remaining with a 53-yard field goal, putting the Vikings defense in a prime spot to make a signature stand.
But Brees drove New Orleans into field goal range, converting a fourth-and-10 chance against a stout defense.
"We had an opportunity on fourth-and-10 and didn't get them stopped," Zimmer said. "I probably stuck with a call one too many times."
The up-and-down performance didn't end up hurting the Vikings, thanks to Diggs' unlikely score on the final play of the game.
But it left Minnesota's defense knowing they have room for improvement as the Vikings will now prepare for a chance to go to Super Bowl LII.
"As a defense, we expect more out of ourselves in the second half," said Vikings All-Pro safety Harrison Smith. "We have to watch what we could have done better to try and improve."
Added Zimmer: "This team is well-grounded. They'll get back to what they do. They know we're going to have a tough task next week in Philadelphia."