Stefon Diggs

Stunner: Keenum-Diggs TD sends Vikings past Saints 29-24

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) As Case Keenum convened the Minnesota huddle with 10 seconds left, the situation staring down the Vikings was as simple as it was daunting.

With the go-ahead field goal by the New Orleans Saints that silenced this deafening stadium still fresh in the air, the Vikings were well beyond any moment of anxiety. All that was left for Keenum to do on that last snap was to throw the ball up like he used to do in his Texas backyards and hope for the best.

Keenum completed his last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game’s final play to Stefon Diggs, who slithered away from the Saints for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory and a spot in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

“At that point, I’m just a kid throwing a football to another big kid,” Keenum said with a smile, “and he just runs and scores.”

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One more win, against the Eagles, and the Vikings will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home turf. Instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they’re in a win-and-go-home situation.

“It never ends that way,” Diggs said. “Usually, it’s reality. It’s life. So things go and you walk home and worry it about tomorrow.”

Instead, Drew Brees and the Saints were the ones trudging off the field in defeat.

“We’re still a bit shell-shocked after what happened there at the end,” said Brees, who steered the Saints in position for Wil Lutz‘s 43-yard kick with 25 seconds remaining that punctuating a forceful rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.

The field goal was set up by a fourth-and-10 completion by Brees to Willie Snead for 13 yards to the Minnesota 33 with 40 seconds left. Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 that spilled into the fourth quarter. The second score was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Marcus Williams, when an off-balance throw into traffic by Keenum served as his one costly moment of recklessness, a “bonehead play,” as he put it.

Keenum settled back in. He guided the Vikings to two more field goals by Kai Forbath, including a 53-yarder with 1:29 left that was his third of the game against his former team and gave them their lead back after a blocked punt by George Johnson had set up the Saints for a touchdown pass by Brees to Alvin Kamara.

Then came the play that put Keenum and Diggs in permanent rotation on the NFL’s all-time highlight reels.

“We knew there was still a possibility, still some hope,” Keenum said.

This wasn’t quite Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 playoffs, but these Vikings are on some kind of special path after turning to Keenum in the second game of the season after original starter Sam Bradford was sidelined by a knee injury.

The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when Keenum dropped back from his 39 and threw high into a crowd. Diggs jumped in front of Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath Diggs during an ill-fated attempt at making a low tackle.

Devastatingly for the Saints, nobody was behind him in the secondary, as Diggs made sure to note right before he made the break on his route during the play the Vikings, believe it or not, call “Seven Heaven.”

Diggs kept his balance as he landed, kept his feet in bounds and kept on running untouched into the end zone as the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted with euphoria. Keenum raced around the field, looking for anyone to hug.

“I’m shocked. I don’t know what else to say. This is the first time ever I’m out of words,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said.

Keenum, the undrafted and undersized all-time leading passer in NCAA history who was making his first career playoff start and has long looked up to Brees, was having a hard time finding the words to describe the experience. He finished with 318 yards, going 25 for 40, with Diggs catching 137 yards on six catches.

“A heck of a game, wasn’t it?” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “And the good guys won.”

Diggs was still in full uniform when he took the podium for his postgame interview, the ball from the winning catch resting safely in front of him on the lectern.

“It’s plays like this that you dream about your whole life,” he said, “and it finally happens.”

PICKED OFF

Brees saw his 13th career postseason game end in a crushing final moment, his 25-for-40 performance for 294 yards tainted a bit by two interceptions before halftime. One came on a leaping grab by safety Andrew Sendejo , the other off a tip by Griffen that landed in Anthony Barr‘s arms at the Minnesota 10-yard line midway through the third quarter.

FIRST-HALF FORCE

The Vikings came roaring out of their first-round bye, forcing punts by the Saints on their first three possessions and moving 55 yards in eight plays for a touchdown run by Jerick McKinnon on their first drive. Aided by two pass interference calls on Ken Crawley for 54 yards, the Vikings reached the 1-yard line before settling for a short field goal on the next possession. They pushed the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter when Latavius Murray plowed in from the 1-yard line.

“The Vikings had a phenomenal game plan,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said.

The only other time the Saints went scoreless in the first half of a postseason game was five years ago. They fell behind 16-0 at Seattle in the divisional round and lost 23-15 to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

SENDEJO DOWN

The first touchdown to Thomas came one play after he leveled Sendejo with a jarring blindside block, sending Sendejo to the sideline for concussion evaluation and reigniting the crowd when the flag that was initially thrown was waved off.

UP NEXT

Saints: head home with a 1-5 record on the road in the playoffs under Payton, with a promising group of young players but some uncertainty around how much longer Brees, who will turn 39 on Monday, will stick around.

“I’m more toward the end of my career than I am at the beginning, I know that,” Brees said. “That’s all I’ll divulge.”

Vikings: move on to Philadelphia for the 10th championship game appearance in franchise history, the fifth in the last 30 years. They won the first four, losing in the Super Bowl each time.

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Vikings get to 13-3 for playoff bye by beating Bears 23-10

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota’s defense turned in another dominant performance and Latavius Murray rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Vikings secure a first-round bye for the playoffs with a 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (13-3), who reached 13 wins for only the second time in the history of the 57-year-old franchise after holding a second straight opponent without an offensive touchdown.

Mitchell Trubisky finished his rookie season with a turnover-free game, completing 20 of 36 passes for 178 yards. He failed, however, to guide the Bears (5-11) across the goal line despite 11 plays from the 10-yard line or closer in the fourth quarter.

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Trubisky also took a safety in the second quarter on an intentional grounding call when Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph closed in on a sack in the end zone and he side-armed a throw between the two pass rushers.

In what could have been the final game for coach John Fox, who’s 14-34 in three seasons, the Bears didn’t cross midfield until the fourth quarter and totaled only 30 yards rushing. They were penalized 10 times for 116 yards and went 1 for 14 on third and fourth down conversions.

The Bears are 1-5 against each of their three NFC North foes under Fox.

After a 31-24 loss at Carolina on Dec. 10, the Vikings took advantage of teams playing out the string in the last three games to get set for the playoffs.

Murray has rather quietly been one of their most productive players down the stretch, helping the Vikings move the chains and work the clock while the defense holds the lead.

Over the past two years, only Ezekiel Elliott (22 for Dallas) has more rushing touchdowns in the NFL than Murray (20, including 12 for Oakland last season).

SNEAKY SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears stopped a streak of 90 minutes and 32 seconds by the Vikings without allowing a score, when Bryce Callahan returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown with 5:50 left in the second quarter. Callahan knelt near the sideline while Tarik Cohen lined up on the opposite side as the expected returner, before sprinting for a sliding catch of the kick that hung over the middle of the field. He leaped to his feet and veered left past the confused Vikings and untouched for the score.

The Bears pulled a pair of fast ones on the Vikings in their matchup earlier this season, when Benny Cunningham caught a pass from Pat O'Donnell on a fake punt for a 38-yard touchdown and Trubisky scored on a 2-point conversion play when the ball changed hands four times.

VIKINGS RECORD BOOK LOOK

The Vikings finished 12-2 four times with a 14-game schedule (1969, 1970, 1973 and 1975), but the only other time they’ve topped 12 victories was their 15-1 record in 1998. … Diggs became the fastest player in Vikings history to reach 200 receptions, in 40 games. … Adam Thielen had six catches for 61 yards and finished with 91 receptions for 1,276 yards for the season, finishing seventh and ninth in team history. Randy Moss and Cris Carter are the only ones ahead on either list.

LINE SHUFFLE

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum took his share of hits and never quite found the rhythm in the passing attack he was able to establish in most of his starts this season, behind an offensive line that has shown some wear down the stretch as the injury list has increased.

Joe Berger, who switched from right guard to center with Pat Elflein shelved for a shoulder injury for the second time in four weeks, was the only original starter to play in all 16 games. Mike Remmers moved from right tackle into Berger’s spot. Jeremiah Sirles started at left guard for Nick Easton, who will miss the playoffs because of a broken ankle.

INJURY REPORT

Bears: Two starting offensive linemen, LT Bobby Massie and RG Josh Sitton, did not suit up.

Vikings: FB C.J. Ham hurt his neck and was ruled out early in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

The Vikings enter the NFC playoffs with a bye for only the fourth time since the current format began in 1990. They’ll host one of the wild-card round winners on Jan. 13 or 14.

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Vikings shut out Packers 16-0, keep eye on 1st-round bye

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Case Keenum stopped one last time before heading up the tunnel at Lambeau Field, clapping his hands above his head while Minnesota Vikings fans chanted “Skol! Skol!”

The Vikings’ defense felt right at home Saturday night in Titletown.

A 16-0 victory over the injury-depleted Green Bay Packers gave Minnesota its first shutout in nearly a quarter-century and kept the NFC North champions in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye.

Stefon Diggs caught a 4-yard pass from Case Keenum just inside the back line of the end zone in the first quarter for the only touchdown. The Vikings (12-3) have already clinched the NFC North and can secure a bye if Carolina loses or ties on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

“Defense played absolutely incredible today, and we did enough. It doesn’t matter how, it matters how many,” Keenum said.

The Vikings forced an incompletion into the end zone on fourth-and-4 from the 14 early in the fourth quarter to turn away the Packers’ last best effort to cross the goal line. Safety Harrison Smith ended another Green Bay drive with an interception at the Minnesota 5 late in the second quarter.

Minnesota left frigid Lambeau Field with its first shutout since a 13-0 win over Detroit on Dec. 5, 1993. It was the first shutout over the Packers (7-8) since Nov. 14, 1971.

The defense has “played pretty good all year long … Proof will be in the pudding here in a couple weeks,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, referring to the playoffs.

The Packers managed to hold a 239-236 edge in total yards. They were still shut out twice in a season for the first time since 2006.

“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance. Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did,” receiver Randall Cobb said.

In its defense, the team fielded a lineup that often looked like one that coach Mike McCarthy would send out for a game late in the preseason. The Packers have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) missed the game, along with cornerback Damarious Randall (hamstring).

Brett Hundley was 17 of 40 for 130 yards with two interceptions in taking over at quarterback again for Aaron Rodgers, who returned to injured reserve this week after missing seven games earlier in the year with a collarbone injury.

The Packers didn’t have leading receiver Davante Adams, who is in the concussion protocol, then lost wideout Jordy Nelson and tight end Richard Rodgers to shoulder injuries in the first half.

“Injuries are unfortunate. We had a lot of opportunities tonight. We didn’t make the plays,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

The hard turf at chilly Lambeau didn’t help either, with some players having trouble with footing early in the game. Unable to connect on medium-to-long range passes, the Packers’ best plays came when Hundley broke free for big gains on the run .

Not enough against the Vikings’ stingy defense.

FROZEN TUNDRA

Fans bundled up in parkas, huddled under blankets and sipped on free hot chocolate to stay warm. Purple-clad Minnesota backers celebrated in the stands on a night in which temperatures hovered in the single digits.

Diggs finished with five catches for 60 yards. Keenum was 14 of 25 for 139 yards.

“I’m not sure we played our best game tonight … We left some things out there offensively,” Zimmer said.

THE LAST TIME

The Packers were also shut out this season 23-0 by the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 19.

HOME DOESN’T HELP

Hundley finished the season having thrown no touchdowns and seven interceptions in six games at Lambeau, with the Packers going 2-4 in that span.

INJURY REPORT

Vikings: The team said that LG Nick Easton will have surgery after breaking his right ankle in the first quarter. … LS Kevin McDermott (shoulder) left late in the second quarter, with backup TE David Morgan taking over snapping duties.

Packers: RT Jason Spriggs was carted off the field with what appeared to be a left injury on the first play from scrimmage. Justin McCray, who was starting at right guard for Jahri Evans (knee), slid over to tackle with Lucas Patrick taking over at guard. … Besides Rodgers and Nelson, RB Aaron Jones (knee) also didn’t return after getting hurt in the first half.

“We battled … I hope everybody walks out of here with their heads held high,” Hundley said.

UP NEXT

Vikings: Finish regular season at home against the Chicago Bears on New Year’s Eve.

Packers: Wrap up year with a visit to the Detroit Lions, also on New Year’s Eve.

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