Sunday, fans of the NFL witnessed one of the most amazing finishes in a football game ever. Where does Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown reception fit in the discussion?
For those who witnessed the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Divisional matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, you were spoiled. When fans dream of postseason football, they fantasize about games like that one. Of course, if you are a fan of either of the teams involved, perhaps the events of the fourth quarter were too much for you to take. However, for the fans that had no loyalty to either side, it just doesn’t get any better.
The events of the fourth quarter almost made people forget that New Orleans trailed 17-0 late in the third quarter. The Vikings top-ranked defense was tormenting Drew Brees and stifling the Saints offensively. New Orleans finished second in the NFL in passing yards and first in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and neither could get going.
However, with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter, the Saints offense woke up. New Orleans proceeded to score 21 of the next 24 points, taking a one-point lead when Brees threw his third TD pass of the game, a 14-yarder to Alvin Kamara with 3:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings answered back, taking a two-point lead when Kai Forbath hit a 53-yard field goal. Just like Saints fans minutes before, Vikings fans now were celebrating a trip to the NFC Championship Game. With the NFL’s best defense being given a second chance to put the game away, Vikings fans had to think that they had survived the worst.
Brees had other plans. He led the Saints into field-goal range, which included a 13-yard reception to Willie Snead on fourth-and-10. Perhaps the play of the game occurred on third-and-1 when Brian Robison and Anthony Harris tackled Kamara short of the first down. Instead of running the clock down and attempting the game-winning field goal as time expired, the Saints brought out Wil Lutz to try a 43-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining.
While Vikings fans sat dejected, Lutz buried the field goal attempt. That left Minnesota with just one timeout and only 25 seconds to pull off a miracle.
Sunday’s game was the second game in NFL postseason history in which there were three lead changes in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The other was Bills-Titans in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Game, also known as “The Music City Miracle.” It was also the first game in NFL postseason history in which there were four lead changes in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
The situation became worse for the home team when they were called for a false start, moving them back five yards. Three plays later, the Vikings stood 61 yards from the goal line and about 25 yards from field goal range. Prayers were heard all over the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Those prayers were answered when the Saints defense had the type of brain fart that the Seattle Seahawks offense had at the one-yard line in Super Bowl 49. As Stefon Diggs danced along the sideline and ran in for the game-winning touchdown, the Saints defensive coaching staff was typing up their resumes. While everyone enjoys a miracle finish, the downside is that those on the opposite end have to relive the most unlikely scenario over and over again.
The Vikings had a 2.8 percent win probability at the snap of the ball on the final play.
Case Keenum, who was making his NFL postseason debut, had never thrown a game-winning touchdown pass inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter in a regular-season game. The only other players to do so in their playoff debut were Terry Bradshaw (the Immaculate Reception in 1972), Steve Bartkowski (1978), Brett Favre (Jan. 1994), and Alex Smith (Jan. 2012).
Breaking down the play, we see Saints safety Marcus Williams inexplicably try to take out Diggs’ legs. Williams missed him by a mile and to make matters worse, he collided with cornerback Ken Crawley. Both players were taken out of the play and sat on the ground watching the Saints’ trip to the NFC Championship Game run away.
For the rest of his life, Williams will try to explain what he was thinking on the final play. However, for Saints fans, they are left wondering “What If?” Here’s what Williams said after the game.
Nevertheless, the Saints season is over, and the Vikings are on their way to the NFC Championship Game, hoping to become the first team in Super Bowl history to play host to the United States’ biggest unofficial holiday on Feb. 4.
Looking back in NFL playoff history, there have been a few other miraculous endings. Perhaps this game will make up for the original “Hail Mary.” In the 1975 NFC Divisional Round at Minnesota, the Vikings were leading the Cowboys 14-10 with 32 seconds left in the game when Roger Staubach connected with Drew Pearson on a 50-yard touchdown. Vikings defenders Nate Wright and Paul Krause felt like Marcus Williams did on Sunday. Hopefully, they can take some solace in knowing the pain from that loss was softened a bit by the miracle they witnessed against the Saints.
Here are some other miraculous endings in playoff history.
The Immaculate Reception
Terry Bradshaw connects with Franco Harris on a 60-yard touchdown pass – Oakland at Pittsburgh: AFC Divisional Round, Dec. 23, 1972.
The Music City Miracle
Kevin Dyson catches a backward lateral from Frank Wychek and running 75-yards for the game-winning score – Buffalo at Tennessee: AFC Wild Card Round, Jan. 8, 2000.
The Catch II
Steve Young hits Terrell Owens with a 25-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining as the 49ers defeated the Packers – Green Bay at San Francisco: NFC Wild Card, Jan. 3, 1999
The Catch III
Alex Smith throws a 14-yard game-winning pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining to defeat the New Orleans Saints – New Orleans at San Francisco: NFC Divisional Round – Jan. 14, 2012