MINNEAPOLIS — This doesn't happen, not in the NFL, not in the playoffs, not when what is on the line are such things as legacies and franchise curses and — oh, my. All of it.
The Vikings were dead, just as they have always been in the playoffs. Their fan base was resigned to another chapter of abject disappointment and despair. The Vikings had blown a 17-point lead at halftime, a 10-point lead to start the fourth quarter, a six-point lead with six minutes left and a one-point lead with 1:29 left.
There were 10 seconds left. The normally raucous building was all but silent.
And then, Case Keenum. And then, Stefon Diggs, inexplicably behind the defense. And then, with 61 yards between the end of the season and a chance to miraculously extend it, Diggs was dancing in the end zone with no time left. And a franchise that is used to losing playoff games in the worst ways imaginable had somehow won one, 29-24, over a Saints team that had it won.
So rewrite the franchise lore, Minnesota, but don't tease these rabid yet restless Minnesotans with possibilities, not just yet. They have been conditioned, over a few generations, to expect the worst, and they nearly added a new, devastating chapter Sunday.
Instead, they have a new bit of glory: Keenum-to-Diggs.
"This will take a while to get over," said Saints coach Sean Payton, 1-5 in road in playoff games.
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.
Poll the Minnesota fan base — the 66,612 in the stands dressed in purple hats with purple horns and purple face paint — and 17-0 didn't seem safe. No, 17-0 seemed set up for heartbreak.
The Vikings were out of timeouts when Keenum, at his 39, called the play: "Seventh Heaven.'' He dropped back with 10 seconds to play and threw high into a crowd.
Rookie safety Marcus Williams awkwardly rolled under Diggs, completely whiffing on the tackle, as Diggs made the leaping catch.
Instead of going out of bounds to perhaps give the Vikings a chance at a long field goal or a final throw into the end zone, Diggs turned up the sideline, stayed in bounds and raced untouched for a touchdown. Teammates mobbed Diggs in the end zone, causing him to nearly pass out, he said
"I'm just thankful," Diggs said. "I don't stop playing till the clock hit zero. That's it."
Williams said of the finish: "That's my play to make.''
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David weighed in on Twitter: "Wow that hurts me as a defensive player lol.''
Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy tweeted: "I've never seen anything like that in my life.''
Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 of the second half. The first score capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The second was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Williams.
When George Johnson blocked Ryan Quigley's punt, the Saints took over at the Vikings 40. Four plays later, rookie Alvin Kamara caught a 14-yard pass from Brees for a 21-20 lead with 3:01 left.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Kai Forbath's 53-yard field goal against his former team gave the Vikings their lead back with 1:29 left. That was more than enough time for Brees. He found tight end Josh Hill for 18 yards, hit Ted Ginn for 11, and on fourth and 10, drilled a sideline throw to Willie Snead for 13 yards, beating Mackensie Alexander to keep the drive — and their season — alive.
But after Lutz's go-ahead field goal, there was just enough time for Keenum — an undrafted, undersized all-time leading passer in NCAA history at Houston whose first career playoff start ended in spectacular fashion.
"I just threw it, man," said Keenum, who finished with 318 yards, going 25-for-40, with Diggs totaling 137 yards on six catches.
"A heck of a game, wasn't it?" Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. "And the good guys won."