Minneapolis Miracle

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Minneapolis Miracle
US Bank Stadium - West Facade.jpg
The game was played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1 2 3 4 Total
NO 0 0 7 17 24
MIN 10 7 0 12 29
Date January 14, 2018
Stadium U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Favorite Vikings by 5.5
Referee Gene Steratore
Attendance 66,612
TV in the United States
Network Fox
Announcers Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews and Chris Myers

The Minneapolis Miracle (also known as the Minnesota Miracle) was the final play of the National Football Conference (NFC) divisional playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints on January 14, 2018. The game was played as part of the National Football League (NFL)'s 2017–18 playoffs.

The Saints came back from a 17–0 first-half deficit and established a 24–23 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the contest. On the last play of the game, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum threw a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who evaded Saints safety Marcus Williams and ran to the end zone to complete the 61-yard touchdown pass. This game was the first in NFL playoff history to end in a touchdown as time expired.

In the aftermath, Keenum and Diggs were lauded for their efforts on the game-winning score, while Williams received criticism for his errant tackle attempt. The Vikings' radio call by Paul Allen – who described the play as a "Minneapolis Miracle" – went viral and became the popular appellation for the play, which won multiple end-of-year awards.

Background

Prior to the 2016 season, Minnesota's starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a non-contact injury that produced a dislocated knee, torn ACL and "other structural damage."[1] The severity of the malady nearly cost Bridgewater his leg and compelled the Vikings to trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford as a replacement.[2][3] The Vikings began 2016 with a 5–0 record before collapsing to finish 8–8.[4] The Saints, for their part, produced their third consecutive 7–9 showing in 2016, leading to rumors that they might fire or trade coach Sean Payton during the offseason.[5][6]

Minnesota entered the 2017 campaign with Bradford as its starting quarterback, as Bridgewater was still recovering from his knee injury.[2][7] Bradford suffered a knee injury of his own in a Week 1 game against the Saints, resulting in Case Keenum taking over at the quarterback position.[8] Keenum subsequently led the Vikings to a 13–3 regular season record and the NFC North title for just the second time since 2009.[8][9] Three Vikings scored eight touchdowns: running back Latavius Murray, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and tight end Kyle Rudolph.[10] Since the Vikings were the #2 seed in the NFC, they did not have to play during the NFL's Wild Card Weekend.[11]

Despite an 0–2 start to 2017, New Orleans finished with an 11–5 record, thereby winning the NFC South and qualifying for the playoffs as the #4 seed.[12] New Orleans' rookie running back Alvin Kamara won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award after earning 6.1 yards-per-carry and scoring 14 total touchdowns during the regular season.[13] Veteran running back Mark Ingram also scored double-digit touchdowns (12), while second-year wide receiver Michael Thomas caught 104 passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns.[14] In their Wild Card Weekend match-up against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints won, 31–26.[15]

The two teams had already met once before during 2017. In Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings beat the Saints, 29–19.[16] The betting line for the playoff match-up opened with the Vikings favored by 3.5 points.[17] By game time, the number had risen to 5.5 points.[17]

Game summary

Portrait photo of Case Keenum in his Vikings uniform and helmet
Case Keenum became the starting quarterback of the Vikings after injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.

The Vikings took a 17–0 lead in the first half. After holding New Orleans to a three-and-out on the first possession of the game, Minnesota went 55 yards in eight plays.[18][19] The Vikings capped off their first drive with a 14-yard touchdown run by running back Jerick McKinnon.[18] Later in the first quarter, a field goal by former Saints kicker Kai Forbath gave the hosts a 10–0 lead.[18][20] Minnesota added to its lead on the first play of the second quarter on a one-yard score by running back Latavius Murray.[18] On the other side of the ball, the Minnesota defense shut out the New Orleans offense. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw two interceptions and New Orleans did not complete a single third-down conversion during the first half.[21] The Saints had not failed to score in the first half of a game in over three years.[22]

However, the Saints recovered during the second half. With 1:18 remaining in the third quarter, Brees threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to reduce the deficit to 17–7.[19] After Case Keenum threw an interception to Saints safety Marcus Williams, Brees threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Thomas early in the fourth quarter to bring New Orleans within three. The Vikings responded with a 49-yard field goal by Forbath to increase their lead to 20–14.[23]

With 3:01 left in the fourth quarter, the Saints took their first lead of the game, 21–20, on a 14-yard pass from Brees to running back Alvin Kamara on a wheel route.[24][25] Forbath nailed a 53-yard field goal with 1:29 left in the game to give Minnesota a 23–21 lead.[26] Brees responded by leading the Saints down the field in just 64 seconds,[8] allowing Wil Lutz to make a 43-yard field goal to take a 24–23 lead with 25 seconds remaining.[27] Following the field goal, Saints coach Sean Payton mocked the Minnesota home crowd by imitating the Vikings fans' "Skol" clap.[28]

After a touchback and a false start by the Vikings, Keenum threw a completed pass to Diggs to their own 39-yard line, then threw two straight incompletions to set up a third-and-10 with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.[29][30] According to the ESPN win probability model, at this point in time the Vikings had just a four percent chance of winning the game.[31]

The play

External video
Sound FX: Diggs' Walkoff TD
The play design for "Buffalo Right, Seven Heaven," as later explained by quarterback Case Keenum. Per Keenum's designation, wide receiver Stefon Diggs is the "Z" receiver in a bunch set.[32]

With 10 seconds left at their own 39-yard line, the Vikings ran a play titled "Buffalo Right, Seven Heaven."[33] Each word in the play call designated a particular element of the formation or route design. "Buffalo Right" communicated that three receivers were in a bunch ("Buffalo") to the right of center.[33] "Seven" routes are corner routes in which the pass-catchers run towards the sideline.[33][34] The intent behind the play was to have a receiver catch the ball and then run out of bounds to stop the clock in time for Forbath to kick a field goal.[35] Meanwhile, the Saints set up in an outside zone defense, which is designed to protect the sidelines and keep the offensive players from catching the ball and getting out of bounds.[29]

Keenum took a shotgun snap with running back Jerick McKinnon to his left. Kyle Rudolph, the tight end, ran an out route underneath near the right sideline, while wide receiver Adam Thielen ran a comeback route near the left sideline. Wide receivers Jarius Wright and Stefon Diggs ran corner routes, or "seven" routes, to the right sideline.[33] The offensive line and McKinnon, who was an extra blocker for this play, blocked the four Saints pass rushers. Keenum set his feet and threw a 27-yard pass to Diggs near the right sideline, who caught the ball at the Saints’ 34-yard line.[31][33]

Because Keenum's pass was slightly high, Diggs had to leap into the air to make the catch. Attempting to make a diving tackle on the airborne Diggs, Saints' free safety Marcus Williams instead missed the Vikings' receiver and collided with cornerback Ken Crawley, knocking Crawley over and preventing him from having a chance to tackle Diggs.[33] Upon returning to the ground, Diggs stumbled slightly but managed to regain his balance and stay in bounds with no Saints players nearby to tackle him. Although the original intent – and Diggs' first instinct[36] – was for him to catch the ball and run out of bounds to set up a field goal attempt,[25][33] Diggs, upon seeing that there were no Saints defenders between him and the end zone, immediately turned upfield and sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown as time expired.[8][21] Accordingly, the game was the first in NFL playoff history to end in a touchdown as time expired.[31][37]

Aftermath

Assuming the game was over, broadcast and stadium crew packed the field, and most Saints players left for the locker room.[38] Eventually, both teams returned for the mandated conversion attempt. Only eight players – punter Thomas Morstead, wide receiver Austin Carr, defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, linebackers Manti Te'o and Gerald Hodges, and offensive linemen John Fullington, Josh LeRibeus and Larry Warford – took the field for the Saints on the final play; only three of them were defensive players.[39][40] While a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty was to be assessed to Diggs for throwing his helmet, the penalty could only be enforced on a kickoff.[41] Keenum led the stadium in a rendition of the Vikings' "Skol" clap and chant and knelt to end the game on the two-point conversion try.[8][27] The kneel down also meant that the Vikings did not cover the 5.5-point spread.[42]

Vikings radio call

In Minnesota, the game was broadcast on KFAN, with Paul Allen and Pete Bercich serving as announcers.[43] As the Vikings players lined up for what would later be the last play of the game, Allen called[44]:

Allen's call of "Minneapolis Miracle" went viral[45] and would later be widely used to refer to the game itself,[30][46] including by the NFL's official Twitter account minutes after the game ended.[47] Some outlets also employed the name "Minnesota Miracle."[48][49] SB Nation writer Harry Lyles Jr. later characterized Allen's call as the "perfect" radio call for the play.[43] ESPN Brazilian Portuguese-language broadcaster Romulo Mendonça also used the phrase Milagre em Minneapolis ("The Miracle in Minneapolis") during his live commentary.[50]

A portrait photo of Stefon Diggs in his Vikings uniform
Stefon Diggs, the receiver who caught the touchdown pass that became the Minneapolis Miracle.

Reception

NFL.com writer Marc Sessler and The Ringer writer Robert Mays, among others, quickly deemed the game an "instant classic", worthy of entry into NFL lore.[51][52] Several commentators – including Mays[25] and former Vikings general manager Jeff Diamond[53] – described the game as ending the Vikings' history of postseason heartbreak.[23][54][35] Keenum and Diggs earned widespread praise for their late-game heroics.[25][54][35][55] Joe Buck later told Rich Eisen in an interview: "As far as football, it's probably number one for exciting moments that I've been a part of."[56] Meanwhile, Williams – who earlier intercepted Keenum to help get New Orleans back into the game – was widely criticized for diving at Diggs instead of waiting to tackle him in bounds.[8][53][57] Some compared the mistake to Bill Buckner's infamous fielding error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.[58][59]

Legacy

With the win, the Vikings headed to Philadelphia to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles beat the Vikings, 38–7, thus denying them the opportunity to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium.[60] The Eagles went on to win Super Bowl LII, beating the New England Patriots, 41–33.[61]

On January 15, the Vikings filed for trademarks on the phrases "Minneapolis Miracle" and "Minnesota Miracle" for use on over 100 items, from football helmets to bathing suits.[62] At the 7th Annual NFL Honors, the Minneapolis Miracle won the NFL Play of the Year Award.[46] In March 2018, the NFL instituted a new rule that eliminated the need to kneel down or kick the point after following a game-ending touchdown that gives a team the victory.[63] In April 2018, it was announced that Diggs' cleats would be displayed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.[64] The play also won the Best Moment ESPY Award at the 2018 ESPY Awards.[65]

Keenum left the Vikings after the 2017–18 season and signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Denver Broncos.[66] The other two quarterbacks on the roster, Bradford and Bridgewater, also joined new teams in free agency. Bradford joined the Arizona Cardinals,[67] while Bridgewater signed with the New York Jets before being traded to the Saints to back up Brees.[68] To replace the departed trio, Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract.[69] Meanwhile, Diggs received a five-year extension from the Vikings for $81 million.[70]

During the 2018 offseason, Payton explained that he was using the play to motivate his players and himself.[71] Payton also expressed regret about calling a draw play for Alvin Kamara on third-and-one on the Saints' final drive. He explained that the failure to convert – and thereby extend the drive – provided the Vikings with enough time to score the winning touchdown.[72] In an interview published days before the 2018 NFL season, Marcus Williams explained that he had made peace with his error and its consequences: "I don't think about what everyone else is saying. I just do me and play."[73]

The Vikings and Saints will face off once again at U.S. Bank Stadium during the 2018 season in what has been billed as a "rematch" of the Minneapolis Miracle game.[74]

See also

References

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External links

  • Stefon Diggs Makes Miracle Walkoff TD Catch on Last Play, Vikings Win! on YouTube, NFL, January 14, 2018.
  • Pro Football Reference page for the game
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