NEW ORLEANS -- The scene at a football hangover is similar to what clutters nearby Bourbon Street at 4 a.m. Debris scattered about large men tipsy from something they had figured shouldn't be all that tough to handle.

The Purple Passion that stunned the Saints Sunday was high octane stuff with several twists. It was potent enough to knock the S out of the plucky locals, making them groggy enough at times to resemble Aints.

Nobody, even the winning Vikings, expected such a bizarre afternoon. Given their mood after that overtime loss to the Redskins the week before, they seemed a team in search of a place to rest in playoff peace.

Not exactly trying, the Vikings all but handed New Orleans the game's first seven points. They then scored 44 of the next 47 points and doomed to sadness the last of the NFL manias.

This had been the final town to get its team into the playoffs. And first-round success surely would have outdone Broncomania, Brownsmania and even the Redskinsmania that hit Washington in the early '70s and again in the early '80s.

These folks take even a whiff of glory as a fine excuse for serious fun -- and the Saints had not pushed above .500 in their 21-year history. While their team was grabbing the second-best record in the league, fans were stretching wretched excess.

For instance, an urbane person in a civilized setting might say of a rival's supporters: "who has the temerity to predict success over our gallant lads?"

Here, they chant: "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" There is no more folly than fans surprised and enchanted by their team.

"Who dats" could be heard everywhere, from normally quiet neighborhoods to in front of the Bourbon Street establishment that advertises amateur female wrestlers.

A mood piece about this wild-card game was stripped across the front page Sunday; a reporter had actually produced a story comparing Saints Coach Jim Mora with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A University of New Orleans history professor and Eisenhower scholar, Stephen Ambrose, said: "Ike and Mora are more the solid types that aren't going to overrun you with their brilliance, but will defeat you by creating a better team. . . . With Ike, it's land, sea and air; with Mora, it's offense, defense and special teams."

Well, Sunday started as Normandy for the Saints and ended as Dunkirk. They had wonderful battle plans on offense and never got to use them, because too many trenches got overrun. Or the team slipped into its former, Sad Sack self.

The Saints actually practice defending against the sort of Hail Mary pass that the Vikings scored a touchdown on just before halftime. They got five-on-three coverage in the end zone -- and Minnesota still scored.

They even have specialists for that defense.

"I'm the back-tip guy," said free safety Brett Maxie. "I stay with the receiver who goes farthest. Johnnie Poe is the side-tip guy, and one of their players hit him before he could get the ball."

Free of Poe, Hassan Jones seemed to be the only one of the eight players converging in the end zone who actually touched the ball. Twice. Jones seemed to tip the ball, then pull it in as he was falling to the turf.

Maxie insisted the ball came to Jones on the third hop, that it hit the ground before Jones covered it and should have been ruled an incompletion.

"Like this," said Maxie, pulling an imaginary ball to his waist. "But no matter what the {replay} camera angle, it couldn't have gotten {the proper view of the contact with the field}."

"{Jones} just cradled it with his elbow," Poe added.

The Saints should have been safely in their clubhouse scolding themselves when the Jones fellow pulled his sleight of hand. The clock showed 00:00 before the snap, but the half could not end because one too many Saints had been on the field for what should have been the final play.

Of all that went wrong for the Saints, nothing was quite so humbling as Mel Gray not being able to catch the ball on his kick-return specialty. He may well be the first player ever to lose a football in the lights before noon.

"He {Vikings punter Bucky Scribner} sure put something on the ball," Gray said, "because I couldn't catch it."

On Gray's first error, he was trying to decide whether to signal for a fair catch or scoot out of the way after the Superdome lights blotted the ball from sight.

"It came down quickly," he said, "like a knuckleball. I've never returned balls like that. Once that sucker came down, it played all kinds of tricks."

The Vikings were able to get a momentum-turning field goal from that muff. Later, Gray had a punt smack off his feet but luckily bounce harmlessly out of bounds.

"I thought it was catchable," he said. "But it was another of those funny tricks. I just couldn't field it."

Trouble is, the Vikings' Anthony Carter could field a punt that sailed his way late in the first quarter -- and the Saints couldn't field him. During and after that 84-yard touchdown return, the Saints staggered.

"We felt we needed to run on 'em," said guard Brad Edelman, who was caught holding three times in the first half. Instead, the Saints were run over, which caused Edelman to admit: "Our mistakes were more mental than physical."

As Washingtonians and fans throughout the league know, the first signs of NFL giddiness are seen in stadium signs. Prominent Sunday was one that read:

"1 for the money/ 2 for the show/ 3 to get ready 4 San Diego."

As usual, the Saints will need tickets for the San Diego Super Bowl. One of the finest regular season turnarounds ever in the NFL, from 7-9 to 12-3, ended with the favored Saints being routed.

Near the end, this sign could be seen: "Next Year Is Finally Here." By that time, somebody had laid a jacket across several of the letters; the jacket was black.