(Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Jan. 15, 2018.)
MINNEAPOLIS — The “Minnesota Miracle” happened on a play called “Seven Heaven.” Why do the Minnesota Vikings use that name? Because if the quarterback hits the seven route, a deep corner in this case, well, something heavenly happens.
Stefon Diggs was running the seven route on Sunday night when he caught his miraculous 61-yard touchdown on a heave from Case Keenum that lifted the Vikings to a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints and into the NFC Championship Game. It was third-and-10. The clock showed 10 seconds. The Vikings trailed by one point, had no timeouts remaining and just a 2.6 percent chance to win, according to ESPN’s win-probability model.
Here’s the story of what happened next — the first fourth-quarter, walk-off touchdown in NFL playoff history — as told by the people who lived it on the field:
Diggs, Vikings receiver: “Case said, as I was about to leave [the huddle], ‘I’m going to give somebody a chance.’ That somebody was me.”
Adam Thielen, Vikings receiver: “We knew we had some time on the clock. And we knew that all we needed was a field goal. Obviously, we knew it was going to be tough. All they had to do was stay back and not give up the big play.”
Sean Payton, Saints coach: “It was an outside zone [defense]. We were protecting the sidelines. Anything inside and you’re in a pretty good position when the game is over. It’s a situation we practice quite a bit.”
Linval Joseph, Vikings defensive lineman: “I was thinking that at best we were going to have to kick the longest field goal in NFL history to win this game.”
The Saints rushed four defensive linemen and had seven in coverage.
Cameron Jordan, Saints defensive end: “We had them exactly where we wanted them. As a defensive end and player of my caliber, I should have been able to eradicate that play all together. … Had I been a half-step faster, I would have been able to get off the tight end and tackle and completely take over that play.”
Wright: “We are the guys who can actually catch the ball and run out of bounds on that play. We’re running more of an out route. Diggs was running a deep corner. He’s the big shot on that. We’re the catch-and-get-out-of-bounds guys.”
Keenum, Vikings quarterback: “I’m not going to say I picked out [Diggs] beforehand. But we needed a big chunk. Thielen was on the backside covered. I had to give a guy a chance. I don’t know what the percentage was. I was just trying to give a guy a chance.”
Wright: “We practice that play all the time. But the high seven never gets the ball. It has never been thrown to that route, as far as I can remember.”
Diggs: “I was thinking, ‘Catch it, get out of bounds and maybe kick a field goal.’ I took a picture before I turned around to catch the ball. There was only one guy there. If he slipped, then I was going to try to stay up and keep it going.”
Joseph: “[Diggs] caught the ball and the safety whiffed — he missed, whatever you want to call it. He didn’t get to the ball.”
That safety was Saints rookie Marcus Williams.
Williams: “It was just my play to make. The ball was in the air. I didn’t go attack it. And he came down and made a great play, and that’s just on me. I just got to be that guy and go up and get the ball. As a safety back there, you got to be the eraser. And that was my job.”
Keenum: “I saw [Diggs] go up, and I was like, ‘He’s got a chance to catch it.’ He caught it. Then, ‘Oh, he’s got a chance to get out of bounds. Get out of bounds!’ But he fell kind of back in bounds, away from [Williams], and then he almost fell over. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I really couldn’t.”
Mike Zimmer, Vikings coach: “That didn’t look like a curse out there to me. That looked like a Hail Mary.”
Diggs: “I was preparing for somebody to contact me so I could go out of bounds, but nobody contacted me. I kind of lost my footing a little bit. I just tried to gather myself with my hand. My hand never let me down. Just tried to gather myself, and the rest is history.”
Thielen: “For him to put his hand down and stay up, it was unbelievable.”
Payton: “Look, [Williams] jumped and went for the tackle. The call is what we wanted in that situation. The right call.”
Marshon Lattimore, Saints cornerback: “All we had to do to end this game if they catch it is tackle them inbounds. They didn’t have any timeout. I mean, things happen.”
Wright: “I saw the safety miss the tackle. I kind of tripped over the corner [Ken Crawley], who was covering me. Then he was out of the play. He ran to the end zone. Then it was a party. My heart is still pounding.”
Diggs: “They all laid on me, and I almost passed out. There were some heavy guys, and I don’t weigh that much. I was just trying to catch my breath. But I didn’t really think about what happened. I still don’t. It’s kind of like a storybook ending, and it never ends that way.”
Joe Berger, Vikings guard: “I don’t usually show a lot of emotion. This one got me crying a little bit. It’s incredible. I’ve played football for a long time. I don’t ever remember another one like this. To put so much time and work into something, and it comes down to one play at the end of the game, and for it to go your way, with a couple guys making a play, it’s just a great feeling.”
Diggs: “I didn’t boo-hoo. Teary-eyed a little bit. I’ll cry when I’m by myself.”
Harrison Smith, Vikings safety: “My next thought was hoping that nobody was getting hurt in the tunnel, because everyone was on top of Stefon. It was kind of mayhem. He was buried for a while. I was hoping he was OK.”
Wright: “I went and got the ball for him. He didn’t think about it in the emotion. But that’s a keepsake. He’s going to want that.”
Thielen: “I didn’t even make it to the end zone, because I couldn’t even move. I was just thanking the Lord. That’s God’s work, for sure. I couldn’t move. I was in shock.”
Wright: “I’ve been here six years. Things haven’t always gone our way. Things went our way, and it feels so good. We haven’t always had the best luck. This time it was us. You take them how you can get them.”
Keenum: “Being a kid, growing up, that’s what you want to do in the backyard. There’s 30 seconds to go, you’re down by two, fourth quarter, playoffs. Drew Brees is the quarterback for the other team. That’s what you dream about.”
NFL Nation reporter Mike Triplett contributed to this story.