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.
Here is how the play looked on TV:
Here’s another angle:
Finally, a more dramatic take:
“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.
Some Philadelphia Eagles players reacted to the play on Twitter:
Wow… I’m INSPIRED!! Next Sunday night will be
— Marcus D. Johnson📢 (@Mojomdj) January 15, 2018
Never seen anything like that…
— Sidney Jones IV (@SidneyJonesIV) January 15, 2018