Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
MINNEAPOLIS – On the final play of Sunday’s NFC Divisional semifinal, the Minnesota Vikings pulled off a miracle.
Stefon Diggs made a leaping catch of Case Keenum’s throw to the right sideline and then tippy-toed down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown as time expired, lifting Minnesota to a 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Diggs made the catch at the New Orleans 34, spun away from Saints safety Marcus Williams and then raced untouched to the end zone, advancing the Vikings to the NFC title game at Philadelphia on Jan. 21.
“I can’t even explain it,” Keenum said. “We were in desperation mode. Diggs made a heck of a play. That’s special, man, one of the most special times of my life.”
The Saints grabbed a one-point lead with 25 seconds left on Wil Lutz’s 43-yard field goal, answering a 53-yarder by Kai Forbath with 1:29 remaining.
“It was an exciting game,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “Obviously a disappointing game to lose in the fashion that we did. I was proud of our players, though. We fought back in the second half, kinda climbed back in it. Made enough plays to put ourselves in that position … and this will take a while to get over, but at some point it will pass.
“It will just take a little bit of time.”
New Orleans took its first lead of the day at the 3:01 mark with a 14-yard scoring strike from Drew Brees to Alvin Kamara, Brees’ third touchdown pass of the second half.
Brees finished 25-of-40 for 294 yards with two interceptions. Keenum was also 25-of-40 for 318 yards, including the last 61 that kept Minnesota’s hopes of hosting the Super Bowl alive.
“We tried to get into field goal range, but I don’t even know what just happened,” Keenum said. “I have no words.”
Minnesota dominated the first half, making life miserable for Brees and the high-powered New Orleans offense. In the first quarter, Brees threw six passes, completing one to his team and one to the Vikings. His one successful throw went for just 3 yards.
Minnesota forced a 3-and-out to start the game and marched 55 yards for the first touchdown. Jerick McKinnon capped the drive with a 14-yard run at the 9:45 mark of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Forbath upped the margin to 10 by converting a 20-yard field goal with 4:42 left in the quarter, finishing a seven-play, 79-yard drive. A 1-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray with 9:58 remaining in the first half made it 17-0.
The Saints started their comeback late in the third quarter. Brees found Michael Thomas for a 14-yard scoring strike with 1:18 left, cutting the margin to 17-7.
Brees and Thomas hooked up again for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 13:09 remaining, six plays after Marcus Williams intercepted Keenum and returned it 12 yards to the Vikings 30. Forbath increased the Minnesota advantage to 20-14 with a 49-yard field goal at the 10:12 mark.
All that served as a prelude to four lead changes in the last 3:01, including the final one.
“Nobody thought we could do it,” Diggs said. “They counted us out all the time. I don’t stop playing until the clock turns zero.”
A clearly disappointed Payton focused on his team’s resolve following the game, and said this is not the first time he has been part of a crazy ending to a football game.
“Oh yeah … in our game, if you play it long enough you have some wins like that and some losses,” he said. “The losses are tougher to get over. Hopefully, when your career is over, you’re part of more of those wins than losses.”
–Field Level Media