DATELINE : EDINA, MN. JANUARY 14, 2018. 7:03 PM.
“ERIC. WE WON.”
“Oh hehehehe good one. This isn’t funny Tony.”
“NO, I’M SERIOUS! DIGGS! THEY THREW A BOMB DOWN THE SIDELINE, THE DEFENDER FELL DOWN, AND HE SCORED!”
“ERIC I SWEAR TO GOD WE JUST WON!”
[Sighs, still not believing. Turns on radio, hears Paul Allen and Pete Bercich going ballistic]
“Holy shit. TONY, YOU AREN’T KIDDING ARE YOU?!”
“I TOLD YOU! GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW!”
[Does illegal U-turn in a snowy intersection, speeds back to the party]
Full disclosure: I didn’t see the Minneapolis Miracle live.
I had seen this ending far too many times in over 30 years of Vikings fandom. I knew how it was going to end, and I didn’t want to watch it unfold. With 40 seconds remaining, Drew Brees found Willie Snead on 4th and 10 to put the Saints firmly in field goal range.
Immediately after this play, I looked at my wife and fired off a very stern “Let’s go.” We were at a party with a bunch of friends and I didn’t want to be around other people when Wil Lutz inevitably made what would surely be the game-winning field goal. As I brushed the freshly fallen snow off our car, my wife quickly gathered our girls and we silently piled in.
My wife tried to console me, bless her heart. All I could do was sigh and quietly mutter, “It’ll be OK. It’s not like this is the first time this has happened. I’ll get over it.” My daughters didn’t really have a full grasp of the situation, but they knew Daddy was sad and they had to leave playing with their friends early.
Two blocks down the road, I got the phone call from my friend.
I have never been so happy to be so wrong about being so (understandably) pessimistic. I ran back into the house, watched the ending at least a dozen times straight on DVR, and had several adult beverages in a state of absolute euphoric shock. I exchanged innumerable texts, tweets, and phone calls with friends and family. I wandered around my friend’s basement with a goofy grin for what felt like hours wondering what the hell just happened.
This is the Minnesota Vikings. Stuff like this never happens to them. This team has always been on the wrong side of the heartbreak. And now suddenly, a team that has been around since ‘61 without a Super Bowl title just got one step closer because of the most improbable touchdown that just happened to be...61 yards.
You can’t make this stuff up.
We’ll have plenty of time to talk about that as the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles draws closer later this week. For now, let’s bask in the glow of the five biggest plays that got us here.
(I’m pretty sure you can guess what the last one will be.)
Play 1: Saints ball, 2nd & 9 at the Minnesota 14. Second quarter, 5:40 remaining. D.Brees pass short left intended for M.Thomas INTERCEPTED by A.Barr (E.Griffen) at MIN 10. A.Barr to MIN 28 for 18 yards (T.Armstead). PENALTY on NO-T.Armstead, Horse Collar Tackle, 15 yards, enforced at MIN 28.
After the Vikings had bolted out to a 17-0 lead and completely stifled the Saints offense in the process, New Orleans was finally putting together their first sustained drive midway through the second quarter. On just their second red zone play of the game, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr combined to preserve the first half shutout.
Griffen’s impressive no-look, backhand tip to Barr kept New Orleans from scoring their first points of the game. It looked like the possibility of a rout was still on. The Vikings defense was absolutely dominating and the offense was moving the ball well.
Of course, it most definitely did not turn out that way. Which is why the final four plays are from two of the craziest final two minutes in NFL playoff history.
Play 2: Vikings ball, 2nd & 10 at the Minnesota 36. Fourth quarter, 1:55 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass deep right to A.Thielen to NO 40 for 24 yards (M.Lattimore). Penalty on NO-M.Lattimore, Defensive Holding, declined. Penalty on NO-M.Lattimore, Defensive Pass Interference, declined.
Marshon Lattimore will probably end up winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. His stellar play was a big part of New Orleans’ turnaround this season.
Adam Thielen didn’t care about any of that though.
After the Saints had stormed all the way back to take a late 21-20 lead, the Vikings needed an answer in the worst way. Thielen’s acrobatic grab while being interfered with just after the two minute warning was gigantic. And the incredible throw from Case Keenum off his back foot was the classic “NONONONO YES!” play. (Keenum had a couple of those on Sunday, as well as his interception, which decidedly did not have the “YES!” at the end.) Unfortunately, the offense could only muster five yards from the next three plays, setting up what every Vikings fan fears most: the playoff field goal attempt with the game in the balance.
Play 3: Vikings ball, 4th & 5 on the New Orleans 35. Fourth quarter, 1:34 remaining.
Gary Anderson. Blair Walsh. Kai Forbath cares not of your previous playoff kicking woes. For Cobra Kai is a cold-blooded assassin.
I already told you that I didn’t see the Minneapolis Miracle live; I didn’t really see this one live either. I was genuflecting in front of the TV, staring down at the ground, too scared to watch. Thoughts of another season being thwarted by the foot of a specialist were making me nauseous. Thankfully, I looked up just in time to see Forbath split the uprights. Crisis averted.
For about 2.6 seconds.
Then I looked at the time remaining.
“Shit. That’s too much time for Brees.”
Play 4: Saints ball, 3rd & 1 at the Minnesota 24. Fourth quarter, 0:33 remaining. A.Kamara up the middle to MIN 25 for -1 yards (B.Robison; A.Harris).
Fourth & 10 had just been converted by Brees. I was already outside. The final result seemed like a formality at this point. But in order to give themselves a last-ditch hope for an improbable comeback, the Vikings first needed to stop the Saints on 3rd & short. If New Orleans converted here, they could kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
After getting gashed for most of the second half, the Vikings defense made one last stop that would turn out to be incredibly important.
Anthony Harris came around the edge to make initial contact, Brian Robison and the defensive line held firm in the middle, and Alvin Kamara was stopped short of the line of scrimmage. Lutz made the field goal, but the Vikings still had 25 seconds to work with.
And we know how the last ten went.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 3rd & 10 at the Minnesota 39. Fourth quarter, 0:10 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass deep right to S.Diggs for 61 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the runner was in bounds ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field was confirmed.
Let’s go crazy.
No words. We have all seen it 1,000 times already, but isn’t getting old anytime soon. For once, we got to enjoy the delirium and disbelief that opposing fan bases have felt at our expense so many times throughout the years. Sure, I might have been sulking in my car at the time, but it didn’t dilute the end result whatsoever. Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs for 61 yards as time expires is a moment Vikings fans will remember forever. It’s a play so instantly classic that multiple companies have already started commemorating it on t-shirts:
We had to go with @PAOnTheMic's call... Congrats #Vikings fans! #Skol #MinneapolisMiracle https://t.co/0is1i7gUid pic.twitter.com/0n4MbzBLZx— Prinstant Replays (@PrinstantReplay) January 15, 2018
Wow. What a ride. The win probability graph from Pro Football Reference resembles what most of us would have looked like if we were hooked up to EKG last night:
Somehow, we survived. And now nobody will ever be able to take away how glorious last night felt for Vikings fans. But there are still two more hurdles to clear before Sunday night’s chaos can truly transcend from memorable to legendary status. After all, we probably wouldn’t still be talking about the Miracle on Ice if the USA hockey team lost the Gold Medal game to Finland.
The Minnesota Vikings are now one win away from playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium. It’s time to bring it home.
And you can bet that I’ll be sticking around until the very end from here on out.
We usually welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. But since we already know the answer, we simplified the poll a bit this time around. If you think we missed a few plays that should have been included in the honorable mentions, please add them in the comments.
What was the most important play of the Vikings’ playoff win over the Saints?
This poll is closed
The Minneapolis Miracle. Duh.
Other. (This is the wrong choice by the way.)