New Orleans Saints 24
Minnesota Vikings 29
Sunday, January 14 th , 4:40 PM EST.
“If there’s a game that’s poised for high drama in this round of the playoffs, this is probably it.”
Well, this Divisional Weekend certainly provided more than its fair share of drama, but when I wrote that sentence in the preview, I think I was anticipating the Saints’ two-minute drill, not the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs doing the damn near impossible and scampering for sixty-one yards into the end zone. Not cornerback Marcus Williams taking a bad line to Diggs and not wrapping him up. Not Case Keenum etching his name in NFL lore.
For all the drama that came late, there was very little at the start. Minnesota leapt out to a 17-0 halftime lead behind absolutely stifling defense. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were ineffective rushing, and Drew Brees struggled mightily to connect with, well, anyone. After the first quarter, Brees had completed one pass for exactly three yards and thrown an interception.
Yes, you read that right. The grand totals on offense for New Orleans through the first half weren’t much better; three punts, two interceptions and a missed field goal. Not pretty.
Case Keenum, a shorter quarterback by NFL standards who has quite wisely modeled his game on Brees, was, for the first half at least, the better player by a country mile. Going into halftime, the Vikings had the look of a team that was going to simply impose their will on whoever was in their way. But, like all good teams, and make no mistake the Saints are a good team, Sean Patyon’s team made adjustments at halftime that brought them back. Brees spread the ball around, with four Saints recievers making catches of at least fifteen yards. The most balanced offense in football, when pressed, became even more balanced.
Before we totally castigate Marcus Williams for that bad tackle on Diggs on the final play, let’s take a second to remind Saints fans that his interception in the third quarter is probably the only reason that this game had any drama to begin with. Instead of taking an impending sack, Case Keenum did what young quarterbacks do. He tried to make something out of nothing and heaved the ball down the sideline off his back foot. Williams saw the lame duck pass from a mile away and timed his run to the ball perfectly. The timely defensive play allowed the Saints to score two touchdowns in three minutes and put the pressure squarely back on a young Minnesota team that suddenly looked vulnerable. Drew Brees became Drew Brees again, and Alvin Kamara led the charge back with over one-hundred- fifty all-purpose yards and two
touchdowns. The game could have gone either way at that point, so I think we need to give credit to the Vikings coaching staff, who kept their young team focused when the could have panicked. Plenty of teams have not fared so well with Drew Brees breathing down their neck.
The improbability of the Keenum to Diggs game winning touchdown as time expired is what makes football great. So many things needed to happen for it to occur. Keenum needed to step up into the pocket when pressured instead of rolling. Diggs needed to be supremely aware of his feet along the sideline. And yes, Marcus Williams tried to take Stefon Diggs’ legs out from under him as the ball arrived, but missed. That’s how magic happens in the NFL. If the Vikings can win one more game and be the first team to play a home Super Bowl, it will make it just a little bit more magical.
Image source: twitter.com/Saints
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.