MINNEAPOLIS — Case Keenum completed a last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game’s final play, and Stefon Diggs slithered away for a 61-yard touchdown to give Minnesota a 29-24 victory over New Orleans and send the Vikings to the NFC championship game, with one more win needed to become a first-time Super Bowl host.
Drew Brees had driven the Saints in position for Wil Lutz’s go-ahead 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining, punctuating a steely rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.
The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when Keenum dropped back with 10 seconds to go from his 39 and threw high into a crowd. Diggs jumped in front of Marcus Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath Diggs during an ill-fated attempt at a tackle.
Diggs held his ground, kept his feet in bounds and raced untouched into the end zone as the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted. This wasn’t quite Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception for Pittsburgh in the 1972 playoffs, but this Vikings team is on some kind of special path. It finished 13-3 during the regular season, giving the career backup Keenum the keys to the offence after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury after the opener.
The Vikings will play at Philadelphia next weekend, after Jacksonville takes on New England for the AFC title. The Super Bowl is in Minnesota two weeks later.
Now the Vikings have spun an unprecedented scenario in NFL history. Next weekend, instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they’re in a win-and-go-home situation with the Super Bowl set for Feb. 4 under the reverberating translucent roof of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Though only defensive end Brian Robison remains from the 2009 team that lost in overtime of the NFC championship game at New Orleans, the Vikings exacted some revenge on Brees and the Saints, at least for their long-frustrated fans.
They put them through quite the emotional finish to complete it.
Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 of the second half. The first score came after a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The second was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Williams after an off-balance throw by Keenum, his one costly moment of either inexperience or recklessness.
Saints coach Sean Payton lost two challenges and thus two timeouts on the next drive by the Vikings, which ended with a successful 49-yard kick by Kai Forbath after he missed from the same distance right before halftime.