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zhangzk Nov 8
As Case Keenum convened the Minnesota huddle with 10 seconds left Authentic Sam Darnold Jersey , 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.”

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 Josh Allen Jersey Elite , 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.

Worst of all, they never saw it coming.

After giving free agent Alex Cobb a four-year Authentic Josh Allen Jersey , $57 million contract and signing veteran right-hander Andrew Cashner, the Orioles figured they had a solid starting rotation to go with a power-laden lineup – a formula designed to produce the team’s fourth postseason berth in seven years under manager Buck Showalter.

”We had really high hopes, as most teams do, especially in spring training,” slugger Mark Trumbo said. ”Our offense was really firing, and we had both Cashner and Cobb coming into the fold to go with a similar group of guys from the last couple years.”

Nothing has gone according to plan. Entering Friday night’s game in Atlanta, the Orioles were 21-52 (10-29 on the road) and a whopping 29 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East. The last time a team has been at least 30 games behind at the end of June was 1979, when Toronto was looking way up at the Orioles.

”It’s kind of mind-boggling,” reliever Zach Britton said. ”It’s tough. We thought we’d be fighting for a playoff spot, and we’re not even halfway through and we’re already close to being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

”I can’t remember being in this type of situation here, maybe my first year in 2011 when we were pretty bad from the get-go. But I don’t even think it was this bad, and this roster has a lot of talent on it.”

Injuries have been a factor. Trumbo and Britton began the season on the disabled list, third baseman Tim Beckham has been sidelined since April 24 and 2017 All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop missed three weeks with an oblique strain. Outfielder Colby Rasmus languished on the 60-day disabled list before hitting a home run Thursday in his first action since April 6.

But the core of the problem has been, quite simply, poor performances by the vast majority of the team – most notably two-time AL home run champion Chris Davis, who’s in the third season of a seven-year, $161 million contract.

Davis is batting .150 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 57 games. He is slated to return to the lineup on Friday night following a hiatus of nearly two weeks during which he worked to get his mojo back.

But Davis isn’t the only underachiever. Schoop has a .209 batting average, starting catcher Caleb Joseph is at .172, Trey Mancini is hitting at a .220 clip (down from .293 as a rookie last year) and the collective batting average of .227 is tied for last in the big leagues with Arizona. Baltimore has been blanked eight times, and no team in the majors has scored fewer runs.

”I can’t remember having a team with so many guys who haven’t swung the bats as they have in the past, or the way they are expected to produce over the course of a full season,” Showalter said.

The best hitters on the team are Manny Machado (.304 Eagles Dallas Goedert Jersey , 18 HRs, 53 RBIs) and Adam Jones (.292, 10, 31), both of whom are in the final year of their contracts and likely to be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

It would take exceptional pitching to offset Baltimore’s meager offensive output, and that hasn’t happened. Cobb is 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA, Cashner is 2-8 and Gausman (3-6) has gone seven straight starts without a victory.

”I’ve never been a part of a team like this,” Gausman said. ”Ever since I came up (in 2013), we’ve been a winning ball club and a contender. So, this is really weird.”

Seems as if there’s no option but to tear it down and start over, beginning with some heavy trading action before July 31.

”If you just run the same roster out there the whole year, you don’t do yourself any justice,” said the 30-year-old Britton, who’s in the final season of his contract and a likely trading chip. ”It’s unfortunate for some of the guys who are going to be affected by it, but it’s the nature of the beast. When you don’t play well, people get replaced by younger players.”

Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are also in the last year of their contracts, but situation likely won’t be addressed until the offseason.

Regardless, change is coming for a franchise still in search of its first World Series title since 1983.

”Sad to see it happen,” Gausman said. ”Obviously, I would love for us all to stay here and ride off into the sunset together. But at this point, that’s kind of unrealistic.”