MINNEAPOLIS — On the brink of another catastrophic playoff loss, the Vikings delivered a moment that will live on in their fans’ minds for the rest of their lives.
In a desperate attempt to get into field goal range with 10 seconds left, Case Keenum hit Stefon Diggs in Saints territory. But instead of going out of bounds after making a leaping grab, Diggs turned up the sideline, past a diving Marcus Williams tackle and into Vikings history with a 61-yard touchdown that gave Minnesota a 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints as time expired.
The Vikings will play the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field at 5:40 p.m. Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LII at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings built a 17-0 lead at halftime, forcing Drew Brees into two interceptions while limiting the former NFL MVP to 117 yards on 8-of-18 passing. Three drives of seven plays or more — all of them covering at least 55 yards — helped the Vikings build their lead, as noise levels at U.S. Bank Stadium touched 118 decibels.
They appeared on their way to another scoring drive to open the second half, until a stunt on the right side of the Vikings’ line led to a Sheldon Rankins sack that took Minnesota out of field goal range.
Ryan Quigley’s punt dropped in the end zone for his first touchback of the season, and the Saints drove 80 yards for a touchdown on their ensuing drive, with Drew Brees hitting Michael Thomas for a three-yard score a play after Thomas’ hit knocked safety Andrew Sendejo out of the game and sent Xavier Rhodes into a frenzy.
Case Keenum’s backpedaling interception on the Vikings’ next offensive play put the Saints in position to score again, and as New Orleans pulled within three early in the fourth quarter, the raucous crowd drew inward, silently entertaining its worst nightmares.
The Vikings’ next drive led to a Kai Forbath field goal, and on a 3rd-and-1 from their own 36, the Saints opted to have someone other than Drew Brees throw a pass for the first time all season. Brees flipped a screen to wide receiver Willie Snead, whose pass to Alvin Kamara went just a little too far to go for a touchdown.
But the Vikings’ next drive was scuttled by Kyle Rudolph’s illegal block in the back, and after former Vikings defensive end George Johnson got a piece of Quigley’s punt, former Vikings linebacker Gerald Hodges recovered it, setting up a Saints drive that gave New Orleans the lead on a Brees-to-Kamara touchdown pass.
Improbably, the Vikings would need a late comeback to win a game they led 17-0 at halftime. And they got the big play they needed when Keenum threw a pass off his back foot for Adam Thielen, hitting the receiver for 24 yards in front of the Vikings’ bench. Coach Mike Zimmer slapped Thielen on the backside, and after Keenum’s deep heave was broken up on third down, Forbath drilled a 53-yard field goal to put the Vikings up 23-21 with 1:29 left.
Brees found tight end Josh Hill for 18 yards, hit Ginn for 11, and on 4th-and-10, the quarterback drilled a sideline throw to Snead for 13 yards, beating Mackensie Alexander to keep the Saints’ drive — and their season — alive. Will Lutz’s field goal put New Orleans up 24-23 with 29 seconds left, and as Keenum threw two incomplete passes following a 19-yard completion to Diggs, the Vikings were down to one act of desperation.
That act turned into a moment unlike any Vikings fans have ever seen.