MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings, after watching their
late-third-quarter 17-point lead vanish at the hands of the
indefatigable Drew Brees, went back in front of the New Orleans
Saints on a field goal with 1:29 left.
Trailing by two with that much time? That was no trouble for Brees,
who moved the Saints in position for the responding field goal with
25 seconds remaining.
The problem was they left just enough space for Case Keenum and the
Vikings to answer with one of the NFL’s all-time last-play stunners.
Keenum completed his last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on
the game’s final play to Stefon Diggs, who slithered away from the
Saints for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory
and a spot in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.
”I don’t know what the percentage was,” Keenum said, ”but just
try to give the guy a chance.”
The play the Vikings ran, believe it or not, is called ”Seven
Heaven.” Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright and Diggs all ran sideline
routes from the right of the formation, with Diggs the deepest with
his break coming at about 25 yards.
This wasn’t quite as improbable of a play as Franco Harris on the
Immaculate Reception for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972
playoffs , which was also in the divisional round, but these
Vikings are on some kind of special path.
The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when
Keenum took the snap with 10 seconds left and dropped back from his
39-yard line. He lofted a throw to Diggs, who jumped in front of
Marcus Williams before the Saints rookie whiffed on his awkward
attempt to cut underneath Diggs for a tackle.
Nobody was behind him in the secondary, as Diggs knew before he
pivoted to keep his balance, keep his feet in bounds and keep
running across the goal line.
”I had a pretty good view of it,” Rudolph said. ”I couldn’t
believe it. Things just don’t work out that way.”
Particularly for the Vikings, whose previous victory in the
playoffs had been after the 2009 season at home against Dallas in
the divisional round. They lost in overtime the following week in
the NFC championship game that year at New Orleans, one of the many
late collapses in team lore that have conditioned Minnesotans to
brace for the worst. So while only defensive end Brian Robison is
still around from that painful loss to the Saints, this thriller at
least served as a leveler of sorts for a fan base accustomed to
being on the other side.
”It’s a turning point for everybody,” Diggs said. ”The majority
of people doubt us. They don’t think it’s going to happen,
especially because of history. People have a way of saying history
repeats itself. I guess this is not one of those cases.”
Now the Vikings can become the first team to play in a Super Bowl
on their home turf, if they beat the Eagles. Instead of the usual
win-or-go-home stakes, they’re in a win-and-go-home situation.
”It would’ve been nice to be home, but I feel like if we take care
of business the way we’re supposed to we’ll have another chance to
see our fans,” Diggs said.