MINNEAPOLIS — Bring It Home is the Minnesota Vikings’ chosen theme for their 2018 playoff run, a cute play on words because they are hoping to become the first team to ever play the Super Bowl on its home field.
Thanks to the Miracle in Minneapolis, they still have a chance to do so after their 29-24 victory Sunday over the New Orleans Saints that will forever rank among the most shocking endings in NFL history.
Down by a point with just 10 seconds remaining and the ball on their own 39-yard line after watching Drew Brees stage one of his patented comebacks, journeyman quarterback Case Keenum floated a pass in Stefon Diggs’ direction. Diggs caught the ball at the New Orleans 34-yard line with a couple seconds left and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted that he wanted his receiver to get out of bounds in order to give Kai Forbath a chance to kick a game-winning field goal.
Instead Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the tackle, which allowed Diggs to run into the end zone.
Pandemonium ensued at U.S. Bank Field, where the Super Bowl will be played in three weeks.
This miracle actually had a divine name.
“Buffalo right, seventh heaven,” said Pat Shurmur, the Vikings offensive coordinator who spent 13 years with the Eagles as an assistant coach and one game as an interim head coach in 2015.
In order to get back home for the Super Bowl, the Vikings must first make a stop in Philadelphia for an NFC championship game between the two best defensive teams in the conference. That game will take place Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field and it will be filled with lots of subplots, starting with the quarterback matchup of the Eagles’ Nick Foles against the Vikings’ Keenum.
Two years ago, when the Rams were still in St. Louis, Foles opened the season as their starting quarterback only to be replaced three-quarters of the way through the season by Keenum. Foles, of course, had landed in St. Louis because the Eagles, during the brief yet unforgettable Chip Kelly “I am not the general manager” era, traded him for Sam Bradford, who opened this season as Minnesota’s starting quarterback but spent most of the year on the bench because of a knee injury. Bradford did return to the active roster in time for the Vikings’ playoff win and is now Keenum’s backup.
That’s not the only reunion that will take place at the Linc. Shurmur, the last man to coach the Eagles before Doug Pederson, will also make his return.
“Philadelphia has meant so much to me … and I still have a lot of strong relationships in the building, so it will be fun to see those people,” said Shurmur, who last week interviewed for the New York Giants’ vacant coaching job.
And then there’s the brotherly love between the Eagles’ Mychal Kendricks and the Vikings’ Eric Kendricks, a couple of linebackers with incredible speed. Eric planned on calling Mychal before celebrating the Miracle in Minneapolis some more.
The most likely story line to decide which team will be in Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII will be defense.
The Vikings defense, which allowed the fewest points and the fewest yards in the NFL this season, smothered Brees and the Saints in the first half while Minnesota built a 17-0 lead.
Brees, making the 13th playoff start of his career, completed just one of his six passes for 3 yards and threw an interception in the opening quarter while Keenum and the Vikings scored on each of their first two possessions to build a 10-0 lead.
Keenum, making his first playoff start, was hot early, completing six of his first nine throws while the running tandem of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon picked up huge chunks of yardage on the ground.
McKinnon scored Minnesota’s first touchdown on the Vikings’ opening possession, going 14 yards on a misdirection play. The Saints handed the Vikings three points on their next possession, thanks to two pass-interference penalties on cornerback Ken Crawley, including a highly questionable 34-yarder that gave Minnesota a first down on the New Orleans 6.
When the Vikings finished a 12-play, 58-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Murray on their first possession of the second half, it appeared as if the Saints would head back to New Orleans without offering much resistance.
Brees and a much-improved Saints defense would not go down quietly, however.
A sack by the Saints’ Sheldon Rankins pushed the Vikings out of field-goal range on Minnesota’s first possession of the second half, and Brees responded by taking the Saints on their first scoring drive of the game.
It came shortly after a controversial play in which Saints receiver Michael Thomas ran into Andrew Sendejo, knocking out the Vikings safety with an apparent concussion. The play initially drew a flag, but after further consultation among the officials it was decided there was no penalty. Thomas, the Saints’ leading receiver, scored on the next play and was showered with boos.
Keenum’s worst moment of the game immediately followed when, under pressure from Cameron Jordan, he threw a ball up for grabs. It landed in the arms of the Saints’ Williams, who returned the interception to the Vikings 30.
Thomas scored again on a 3-yard touchdown throw by Brees early in the fourth quarter and the game was on.
Minnesota pushed its lead to six with Forbath’s 49-yard field goal early in the final quarter, but a tipped punt by George Johnson set up New Orleans at the Minnesota 40-yard line and Brees needed just four plays to find Alvin Kamara for a 14-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 21-20 lead.
The Vikings countered with a 53-yard Forbath field goal with 1:29 left, but Brees calmly took the Saints from their own 25 to the Minnesota 24, setting up a 43-yard field goal by Wil Lutz with just 25 seconds remaining.
Minnesota had one timeout left, and what little hope it had became even less when the drive started with a false-start penalty. But then Keenum,who completed 25 of 40 passes for 318 yards, found Diggs for a 19-yard completion in the middle of the field. The Vikings used their final timeout.
Two incomplete passes later, Shurmur sent in the play that will forever be remembered around here: Buffalo right, seventh heaven.
The Vikings overloaded the right side and sent three receivers deep down the sideline.
“[Keenum] said as I was about to leave [the huddle], ‘I’m going to give somebody a chance,’ ” Diggs said. “I was hoping it was me.”
It was, and now all that stands between the Vikings and a home Super Bowl date is a meeting with the Eagles at the Linc.