What just happened? That was the question that bounced around my mind after the end of the Minnesota Vikings’ playoff game against the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday night. Down 24-23 with just seconds left, my family watched breathlessly as Stefon Diggs caught the last-second pass from Case Keenum and ran it into the end zone. Minnesota goes on to the NFC Championship.
Of course, the game didn’t start out on quite the intense note it ended on. Looking at the matchup, I was fairly confident the Vikings could pull out a success. The team had been, despite a few hiccups, electric throughout the entire year. A 13-3 season coupled with standout talent like Keenum, Diggs and Adam Thielen had me more excited about Minnesota’s playoff chances than since watching Brett Favre in 2009.
We had defeated the Saints earlier in the year in a close, but still convincing, victory. The Saints had a worse record and had barely managed to put away the Carolina Panthers in their first playoff game. Yet I still had the lingering dread in my mind. What if the Vikings mess things up? What if this was like 2009 when the Saints had beaten us when we were so close to the Super Bowl? I tried to push these thoughts back and just watch the game.
At first, things went smoothly. The Vikings came in with impressive offense and defense, shutting down Drew Brees and putting up 17 points on the scoreboard before the end of the first half. I was ecstatic. This could really be our year. Things seemed to be going right. The Vikings would continue their amazing run after all.
But the first half is only just that, half of the game. When the teams came back from their halftime break, it was almost as if a new opponent had showed up at US Bank Stadium. The Saints pushed forward on drives, making three touchdowns, intercepting a Keenum pass, even blocking a punt. The specters of the Vikings curse started to appear before my eyes. It would happen again; our victory would be snatched away at the last second, leaving Minnesota pondering what went wrong yet again.
The fourth quarter was especially nail-biting. The competing teams went back and forth, the fate of the game in the balance. The Saints got their second and third touchdowns, putting them one point ahead of Minnesota, 21-20. Driving back on offense, the Vikings put the score back to 23-21. The relief was only temporary, though, as the Saints made it 24-23 after a field goal of their own with half a minute left. My family – and I’m sure everyone in Vikings fandom – waited with bated breath.
It was the moment of truth. Our Minnesota Vikings needed only a field goal to win, but that was asking a lot with only one timeout and 30 seconds left on the clock. An early first down got us to around our own 40-yard line, but after a few incomplete passes and 10 seconds left, it would take a miracle to get us into field-goal range.
Well, that miracle arrived, and more. On a last ditch pass, Keenum, under pressure, passed to the sideline and found Diggs at around the 35-yard line. Dodging a tackle, I first thought he would have to step out of bounds to stop the clock for a field goal. But then I – and Diggs – saw the open space all the way to the end zone. It was over. The Vikings pulled off the win.
My family’s living room – and I’m sure the entire state of Minnesota – broke into uncontrollable cheering and clapping. We’d all been along this rollercoaster of a game – the assured feeling of an easy victory after the Vikings’ fantastic first half, and the agony of defeat and resignation when it looked as if all was lost in the final seconds. And, of course, the amazing feeling of watching that final play and seeing Diggs take home the football for the game-winning touchdown. This game was a piece of art, truly one for the ages. Let’s hope the momentum continues through to the big one.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.