Vikings edge out Saints in final seconds

January 19, 2018

The matchup between the Vikings and Saints on Sunday was one for the ages. The game, though it featured four lead changes in the last three minutes, will ultimately be remembered for the 61-yard walk-off touchdown from Keenum to Diggs to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory. The play is being called the “Minneapolis Miracle” and marks the first time any team during the postseason has scored a game-winning touchdown at the end of regulation.

At first, kicker Wil Lutz appeared to have sealed a Saints’ victory on a go-ahead 43-yard field goal in the final minute of the game. However, the Vikings, with the ball and trailing by only a point, still had a fighting chance. The offense, led by quarterback Case Keenum, needed to drive roughly 50 yards to give kicker Kai Forbath a chance to regain the lead. Keenum managed to complete a 19-yard pass, to the Vikings’ own 39. The game came down to a third and 10 with 10 seconds left and no timeouts. According to The Ringer, the Vikings ran the play call “Seven Heaven,” designed to send receivers Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright and tight end Kyle Rudolph on corner routes. The play would allow them to gain enough yardage to get the Vikings into field goal range and to run out of bounds.

Though the Vikings normally practice this play and had already ran it a few times earlier in the game, the outcome was shocking to say the least, a fluke rather than a well-executed result. New Orleans rookie Marcus Williams, who had a good performance overall, including an interception late in the third quarter, failed to tackle Diggs.

Perhaps Williams was trying to avoid a pass interference call which would have automatically put the Vikings in field goal range. Williams reacted to the play in advance but was already on Digg’s back before the ball reached its target. Williams seemed unable to stop his momentum and seemed to dive out of the way. Unfortunately, in the process he took down his own teammate and Diggs caught the ball while keeping his feet in bounds and turned up field. Vikings players on the sideline were shouting at him to run out of bounds to stop the clock. Diggs later said “I took a [mental] picture before I turned around to catch the ball and there was only one guy there. If he slips, then I’m going to try and stay up.” Right as time expired, he walked into the end zone, took off his helmet, and stretched out his arms to a home crowd in pandemonium.

This is the first time the Vikings have been on the winning end of a heartbreaking postseason finish. As recently as 2015, the Vikings have experienced playoff woes, losing a wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks when kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. There are other similar moments where Minnesota’s season ended in disappointment: the Brett Favre interception in the 2010 N.F.C championship game that propelled the Saints to the Super Bowl, the missed Gary Anderson field goal in the 1999 N.F.C. championship game, Darrin Nelson’s drop in 1987 and Drew Pearson’s Hail Mary catch in 1975.

This year, the Vikings hope to craft a different story. Minnesota has yet to win a championship despite making it to the Super Bowl four times. On Sunday, the team will play the Eagles in Philadelphia for a trip to the Super Bowl. If the Vikings advance, they will be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, which will be a huge advantage over the representative A.F.C. team.

Still, the Eagles are a formidable opponent and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is aware that his team must focus on preparing to play in Philadelphia and not get caught up in its thrilling divisional round win. For one, the Eagles have a stronger defense than the Saints. Philadelphia leads the league in rushing defense (79.2 yards per game) and ranks fourth in both points allowed (18.4) and yards allowed per game (306.5), ESPN reports. Also, during a 2016 matchup, the Eagles beat the Vikings 21-10. Though both quarterbacks who started that day, Carson Wentz (Philadelphia) and Sam Bradford (Minnesota) will not play next week Sunday, the game was a defensive affair. Both offenses stagnated, though the Eagles were able to capitalize on three Vikings’ fumbles.

Mike Zimmer who, following the victory over the Saints, lead a “Skol” chant during his press conference, on Monday was business as usual. On the podium, he listed what he disliked about his team’s performance. This included Case Keenum’s interception, and the defense’s inability to prevent Drew Brees from converting a fourth and 10 late in the game, which would have sealed the win. “We can’t make these mistakes in playoff games or we’ll be going home,” Zimmer said, according to ESPN. “There’s always good and always bad in some of the games, but we made some critical errors in that game that could have gotten us beat.”

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