Sunday, January 14, 2018

Notebook: Diggs' improbable catch lifts the Vikings to a magical 29-24 win

The Vikings completed one of the most improbable moments in team history as Stefon Diggs sprinted up the sidelines for a 61-yard walk-off score to defeat the New Orleans Saints. Daniel House recaps the 29-24 miracle victory in Minneapolis.

Memories of 2009 danced in the heads of Vikings fans with seconds left in the game. A 17-0 halftime lead was erased as Drew Brees and the Saints went on a 24-3 scoring run in the second half. The life was nearly sucked out of Minnesota following a 43-yard field goal by Wil Lutz.
Purple faithful were waiting for their hearts to be shattered again. Ten seconds remained, quarterback Case Keenum took the snap, aired it deep down the right sideline to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs tracked the pass and maintained body control as safety Marcus Williams slid underneath him. Diggs turned up the sideline to finish a 61-yard score that brought a miracle victory to Vikings fans everywhere.

Pandemonium ensued after the play as fans celebrated and embraced one another, witnessing the first game in NFL playoff history to end on a game-winning touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter. The play, “Buffalo Right, 7 Heaven” will live in the lore of Vikings history forever.

The Vikings were leading 17-0 until a backside block by wide receiver Michael Thomas injured Andrew Sendejo. Both sidelines were upset and talking on the field as Sendejo was on the ground. Sendejo was having an excellent game and made a difficult interception while playing centerfield on a Ted Ginn Jr. deep post. The injury created a small momentum shift that knocked the Vikings out of their groove. Quarterback Drew Brees found Michael Thomas for a 14-yard score in the back corner of the end zone. Suddenly, the Saints grabbed the reins and shifted the entire tone of the game. Keenum also took a sack that knocked the Vikings out of field goal range just a few drives before.

On the next possession, New Orleans gained even more life. Leading 17-7 with 1:18 left in the third quarter, Case Keenum heaved a pass in the air that was intercepted by Marcus Williams. Brees would find Thomas for another passing touchdown to pull the Saints within three points.

Vikings fans had witnessed this script before.

Kai Forbath booted a 49-yard field goal on the next drive, redeeming himself after a missed try earlier in the game. However, moments later, a blocked Ryan Quigley punt set up a 4-play, 40-yard scoring drive, capped by a 14-yard pass from Drew Brees to running back Alvin Kamara. The Saints led by one point with 3:01 left and the air was sucked out of U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Vikings didn’t quit, though.

Case Keenum found Adam Thielen for a difficult contested 24-yard grab. It set up a successful 53-yard field goal by Kai Forbath to pull the Vikings ahead 23-21. With 1:29 left for Drew Brees, things were far from over. The Vikings defense allowed the Saints to cross midfield, but they forced New Orleans into a long down situation. Brees would hit Willie Snead for a 13-yard gain on 4th-and-10 to bring the Saints into field goal range. The Minnesota defense was losing steam down the stretch and cornerback Xavier Rhodes was struggling to stop Michael Thomas. The Saints would run two more plays, but the unsung moment in the game may have occurred when the Vikings stopped Alvin Kamara for a 1-yard-loss. It forced the Saints to kick a successful field goal try with 25 seconds remaining. There was still enough time for Minnesota to pull together an improbable comeback.

The Vikings were down to their last play until Keenum found Stefon Diggs for the miraculous score. It was an extremely difficult play because Diggs had to maintain possession, keep himself in-bounds and stay on his feet for the score. If he had fallen down, the clock would have expired, ending the game.

Instead, the Vikings completed one of the greatest plays in team history. The media entered the field to capture the moment and fans celebrated as Minnesota advanced to the NFC Championship game. The shock and despair on the faces of everyone created one of the best moments fans will see in sports. Everyone was cleared off the field to complete the extra point and the Saints were brought back onto the field from the locker room to finish the last play.  

Fans hugged one another and others fell to their knees in tears. There were still people in the stadium 45 minutes after Diggs’ walk-off winner. For Vikings fans who have faced heartbreak their entire lives, it was an exhilarating moment. It brought them redemption for the 2009 NFC Championship loss to New Orleans and drew flashbacks to the 1975 Hail Mary Dallas completed to end the Vikings’ season. This time, the shoe was on the other foot.

In a way, it was another chapter to a magical season led by an undrafted quarterback and a powerful defense. The Vikings survived and have the chance to compete in the NFC Championship to become the first team to play in their home stadium for the Super Bowl.

You can’t write a script better than the one Vikings fans witnessed on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

A few weeks ago, when Mike Zimmer said -- “there’s no damn curse” -- perhaps the spirit on the wall or crystal ball were telling him something.

Maybe the play “Buffalo Right, 7 Heaven” was supposed to happen all along.

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