They spent Sunday night bathed in adulation, their phones chirping with congratulatory text messages and their screens glowing with highlights of the “Miracle in Minneapolis,” or whatever name is ultimately given to Stefon Diggs’ breathtaking 61-yard touchdown as the clock reached zero in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Adrenaline kept players awake until the middle of the night. “I went home and watched it on ESPN, and I kept rewinding it about a thousand times,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “It was crazy.”
And then, on Monday morning, with perhaps the most dramatic moment in franchise history behind them and their biggest game in eight years before them, the Vikings got back to work the same way they always do: They assembled in the team film room and listened to coach Mike Zimmer dissect the reasons why the game shouldn’t have been that close in the first place.
“We had a meeting this morning, we did our lift and our run, and I kind of told them we can’t make these mistakes in playoff games, or we’re going home,” Zimmer said. “There’s always good and always bad in some of the games, but we made some critical errors in that game that could have got us beat.”
However difficult a return to normalcy might have been for the Vikings on Monday, after their stunning 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, they found it imperative to descend from Cloud Nine and land once again in reality, six days before the NFC Championship Game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. A victory would send the Vikings to the Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years; it also would ensure the improbable play would not ultimately be for something as trivial as a division playoff win.
“I think the biggest thing is this is just the beginning. This isn’t the end,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said Sunday. “This is great, don’t get me wrong. We should celebrate this and enjoy this. It’s hard to win playoff games. There’s a lot of guys in this locker room, including myself, this is our first playoff win. But it’s just the beginning. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’d be a shame to let something like that go to waste by us not showing up.”
When the Vikings watched the film of “Seven Heaven,” the play they called on the winning touchdown, it wasn’t necessarily to revel in the moment one more time. “We actually watched it with the defense, as well, to show what you shouldn’t do,” Zimmer said.
The coach harped on the Saints’ fourth-and-10 conversion before their final field goal (“We had a miscommunication,” Zimmer said), the punt Ryan Quigley had blocked, Case Keenum’s interception and the sack he took to move the Vikings out of field-goal range.
He didn’t belabor the Vikings’ blown 17-0 lead — “They get in their fast-break mode, and you have a guy like Drew Brees throwing the ball all over the place,” he said — but used the typical Monday film study to tether the team’s emotions again.
The 24-hour rule — the mandate that victories and defeats must be forgotten after one day — is almost sacrosanct in the NFL. For the Vikings, it was just more than 12 hours between the time of Diggs’ catch and the time when they returned to work on Monday morning.
On Sunday, though, they will face a team playing after an extra day of rest, in a building where the Eagles lost only once this season. Philadelphia is without quarterback Carson Wentz, yes, but not without most of the key players on a defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in points and first in rushing yards against.
“That’s part of the NFL. You have to play great players every week,” Zimmer said. “It will be part of the plan to figure out how we stop some of these guys. The unfortunate part is they’ve got a lot of them, and so we’re going to have to figure out ways to take advantage of what we can do to slow them down.”
Spending more time reflecting on Sunday’s win, no matter how dramatic it might have been, ultimately won’t help the Vikings get back to U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl LII. And so, after a moment that triggered jubilation across the state, a team that seems to relish the grind of an NFL season moves on.
“I think it’s easier [to prepare for the next game after a win like Sunday],” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “It’s easy to forget about the game and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go prepare and put our best foot forward for the Eagles.’ You don’t get that opportunity every year. We know how hard it is to get to the playoffs in general, and then to get to the NFC Championship Game. You just never know if you’ll have the opportunity again, so you really want to make the most of it.”