If any Minnesota Vikings player or coach was skeptical regarding the notion of miracles, their disbelief has vanished as dramatically as the New Orleans Saints’ late game lead this past Sunday.
The No. 2 seed Vikings (14-3) improbably scored a game-winning touchdown with no time remaining on the clock at home versus the Saints in the second NFC Divisional round game to swipe a 29-24 victory and move on to the conference championship game this Sunday (6:40 p.m.) versus the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles on the road. The Eagles (14-3) edged out the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday 15-10.
After the Saints’ future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees led his team back from a 17-0 halftime hole and moved them in position for a 43-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz with 25 seconds remaining, the Vikings trailed 24-23 with only 25 seconds left in their season. Or so it appeared. Their imminent defeat was preempted by a miracle.
With no timeouts and seemingly no hope, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum connected with wide receiver Stefon Diggs with 10 seconds remaining on a 61-yard touchdown on the right sideline as Saints rookie safety Marcus Wiliams egregiously whiffed on a tackle.
Diggs, rising high to snatch the ball out of the air and landing on the Saints’ 34-yard line, spinned toward the end zone, slipping downward then regaining his balance by placing his left hand on the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, then urgently and euphorically dashed for one of the most thrilling touchdowns in NFL playoff history. Immediately after the score, many players from both teams stood motionless in utter shock, as other Vikings celebrated uncontrollably.
“I’m just thankful,” said Diggs, now in his third season, from the University of Maryland. “They count us out all the time. Nobody thinking we can do it. This game was over. I don’t stop playing until the clock hit zero. That’s it.” Essentially that was it.
Many pundits also counted out Keenum. The 29-year-old former University of Houston Second Team All-American took over for the Vikings injured starter Sam Bradford just two games into the season and has adeptly guided an underrated offense to within one win of the Super Bowl, which will be held in their home stadium two weeks from this Sunday.
The Eagles are also operating with a quarterback who was an afterthought up until late in the season. Nick Foles was pressed into duty when Carson Wentz, well on his way to winning the NFL MVP award, tore the ACL in his left knee and had season-ending surgery. Cynics continue to question both QBs’ ability to lead their teams to the Super Bowl.
Both quarterbacks are supported by defenses that at times have been dominant. The Vikings ended the regular season ranked No.1 in total defense and the Eagles No. 4. But the game will come down to which QB makes the most impactful plays and least mistakes. That will be Keenum with the outcome being the Vikings emerging with a close 23-17 grind-it-out victory and playing Super Bowl LII (52) in their own backyard.