Case Keenum sat at his locker in disbelief, still dressed in full pads, 30 minutes after he delivered the mother of all finishes.
He leaned over in his chair and put his head in both hands, the universal sign of “what the heck just happened?” He checked his phone, which might have set a world record for incoming text messages. Then he paused and stared at the carpet, lost in thought.
At one point, he jumped up and joined his partner in the Minnesota Miracle, Stefon Diggs, for an impromptu photo with the game ball.
“Dang,” running back Latavius Murray shouted, “I want to be y’all two.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
No one could, Case.
Keenum’s playoff debut ended with a moment so surreal that it shook a stadium and defied logic. Down to a final gasp, Keenum connected with Diggs on a 61-yard walk-off touchdown for a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
On a play called “Seven Heaven,” Keenum’s pass and a whiffed tackle by the Saints on Diggs sent the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game next week in Philadelphia.
The underdog quarterback engineers a miracle finish in his playoff debut on a play called “Seven Heaven” … come on, this is movie script stuff, folks.
Keenum still seemed to be in shock about an hour after he turned U.S. Bank Stadium and the entire state of Minnesota into bedlam.
“I’m swimming with a lot of emotions,” he said.
Keenum told teammates in the huddle before the final play that “I’m going to give somebody a chance.” As reporters tried to dig further into the intricacies of the play, Keenum turned folksy.
“At that point, I’m just a kid throwing a football to another big kid,” he said.
Is this real?
His final throw crystallized Keenum’s entire season — an exercise in improbability. He came to Minnesota to be a backup. He turned in a career season in relief of Sam Bradford and became a fan favorite in the process. Now, he enjoys legendary status in Vikings lore.
One pass will be re-told for generations to come.
“I don’t know if I can put it in perspective right now,” he said.
Keenum’s first playoff game ended perfectly but it wasn’t without hiccups. He threw an ill-advised pass while being tackled that resulted in an interception in the second half, a decision he called “bone-headed.”
But his very next pass attempt showed his toughness, or as Mike Zimmer likes to say, a certain body part. Keenum threw a dart to Jarius Wright for a 27-yard completion that set up a field goal.
He made several clutch throws down the stretch and finished with 318 passing yards and one touchdown.
“Case is a pretty cool customer,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a big chip on his shoulder. He’s always trying to prove people wrong. I do love that about him.”
Keenum said there was nothing “noteworthy” about his message to teammates as they faced a desperation scenario, starting at their own 25 with 25 seconds left.
“Being a kid growing up, that’s what you do in the backyard,” he said. “Thirty seconds to go, down by 2, fourth quarter of playoffs. That’s what you dream about.”
It looked more like a nightmare when they had ball at their own 39 with 10 seconds left. No timeouts. One last play.
Keenum wanted to get enough yards to set up a legitimate shot at a field goal. He spotted Diggs along the sideline, threw his pass a little high and then magic happened.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Keenum said.
As Diggs raced to the end zone, Keenum ran around the field looking for someone to hug. Pandemonium ensued.
“It was special end to a special game,” Keenum said.
Keenum became one of the best stories in the NFL this season. Then a miracle finish happened. His story turned into a fairy tale with one throw that kept alive a dream season.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org