Vikings put past behind them in stunning victory

The Sports Xchange

January 14, 2018 at 10:49 pm.

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs celebrates as he scores the game winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs celebrates as he scores the game winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Rudolph had showered and dressed after the Minnesota Vikings’ improbable walkoff victory on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, and was ready to put the first playoff victory of his career into perspective.

Rudolph, the longest-tenured member of Minnesota’s offense, had watched quarterback Case Keenum throw the ball up and receiver Stefon Diggs make a leaping catch before spinning and staying inbounds on his way to a game-winning, 61-yard touchdown in the Vikings’ 29-24 win.

The most unlikely of endings ignited one of the unluckiest of franchises.

Forget the four Super Bowl losses. Those are ancient past. No, the fan base had been through plenty in recent years to consider themselves cursed.

It was Gary Anderson’s miss in the NFC Championship Game that kept the 15-1 Vikings from reaching the Super Bowl after the 1998 season. There was the 41-donut two years later in the NFC Championship loss to the New York Giants.

Another expected Super Bowl run in 2009 was derailed at the hands of Sunday’s opponents, the New Orleans Saints, when Brett Favre was intercepted and Minnesota lost in overtime. Just two years ago, Blair Walsh’s chip-shot, 27-yard field goal sailed left with 26 seconds left in a 10-9 loss to Seattle.

“It’s about time,” Rudolph said. “Just what this organization has been through, what we as a group have been through if you think back to the last time we were in the playoffs, and then just rewind over the last two years of all the injuries and all the adversity we faced.”

Rudolph continued, listing off the bad breaks for the Vikings like losing quarterback Sam Bradford after he was NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 1 against New Orleans and impressive rookie running back Dalvin Cook suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 as Minnesota fell to 2-2.

“For a lot of people, they could have been just, ‘OK, here it goes again. It’s not meant to be,'” Rudolph said. “But that’s not this group. That’s not this group of men. It’s not the leadership that we have. All we know is the fight. They say all the time, ‘fight for 60 minutes.’ As long as we do that, you look up and you’ll be happy. I never actually thought after 60 full minutes it would end the way it did today.”

With one catch and run, the Vikings hope to have exorcised any playoff demons.

There was seven seconds on the clock when Keenum let the ball go. Diggs went high to make the catch and safety Marcus Williams went low and missed a hit on Diggs, perhaps trying to avoid a penalty. Diggs landed, turned and had no one between him and the purple of the end zone. He did a high-wire balancing act along the sideline to stay in bounds and celebrated in the end zone with no time left on the clock.

“I think that crystal ball and that wood spirit is working,” Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said. “If there was a curse, then we probably would have lost today.”

There is no curse, but these Vikings are living a charmed life.

Previously a journeyman, Keenum took over for Bradford and had an MVP-quality season. There’s nothing lucky about one of the league’s best defenses, even though it received its own fortunate turn on Sunday.

Defensive end Everson Griffen had his back to quarterback Drew Brees and simply threw up his hand. He tipped a Brees pass and linebacker Anthony Barr was there to make the interception.

“I didn’t believe it,” a stunned Griffen later said about Diggs’ touchdown. “I’m sitting here and I’m in complete shock. It’s unbelievable. I’m going to say it over again, God is good. He showed me something. It’s amazing, about time. It don’t matter how you win. Like Vin Diesel said, you win by an inch or mile, winning is winning and we won the game.”

“It’s about time” was echoed by several players after the game.

Minnesota Pro-Bowl receiver Adam Thielen had lived through all of the recent playoff letdowns as a boy growing up in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

“2009, 1998, just being a Vikings fan since Day 1, I’ve been through a lot, obviously, as a fan,” he said. “But it’s different when you’re a part of the team. You don’t really think about those things. You think about these guys in the locker room; how hard we’ve fought, how much we’ve been through, how close this group is and that’s why we want to win.”

Even as Diggs celebrated, other players and coaches were hesitant. The crowd was frenzied. But everyone looked toward the field to see if there was a penalty on the play.

Not this time, not for these Vikings.

“I figured the play was dead or something’s going to happen because that don’t happen to us,” Barr said. “We don’t get stuff like that. But we did today, so I’ll take it.”