The true Minneapolis Miracle is that Vikings fans have mythologized a fluke play, caused by the most egregious missed tackle in recent NFL history, that led to an embarrassing blowout loss.
When Stefon Diggs scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to beat the New Orleans Saints on the last snap of their divisional playoff game last January, the play became part of Vikings history because it ran counter to Vikings history. Finally, fans said (or wept) — finally, a big play went the right way.
We now know that the play, combined with a 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game the following week, was the equivalent of winning the lottery, then losing all of the money in one hand of blackjack.
The play was fool’s gold to begin with. Diggs scored only because Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams inexplicably ducked his head and completely missed Diggs when simply bear-hugging Diggs inbounds would have won the game for New Orleans.
I’ve been covering the NFL since 1989. I’ve never seen a defender make such an inexplicable play in a big moment.
Williams did more than win the game for the Vikings. He may have saved a job or two.
As the Saints return to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, let’s contemplate what might have resulted if Williams had made that simple play.
If the Saints had won, they would have completed a stunning comeback, on the road, in an extremely loud stadium. Given that they had won 12 of their previous 15 games, and that they have won five of their six games this season, they may have been a threat to win in Philadelphia and advance to the Super Bowl.
Had they done so, Drew Brees probably would have had as much or more success against the Patriots defense as did Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles. Brees and his coach, Sean Payton, well could have earned second Super Bowl rings, and Brees, who this year set the NFL passing yards record, may be more frequently mentioned as a contender for greatest quarterback of all time.
For the Vikings, the landscape could have changed from fields of bouquets to scorched earth.
If the Vikings had lost that game while blowing a second-half lead, Mike Zimmer would still be without a playoff victory as a head coach. Zimmer appeared to be outcoached during the second half by Payton, and that, not the Minneapolis Miracle or Keenum’s turnovers the following week, may have become a primary story line during the offseason.
General Manager Rick Spielman would have been without a playoff victory since 2009, meaning his only playoff victory of his dozen years with the team would have been delivered by Brett Favre.
The Vikings’ loss at Philadelphia was such an utter and total collapse that no individual took a large percentage of the blame. Had Zimmer’s defense contributed heavily to a comeback loss to the Saints, Zimmer may have felt pressured to make changes on his staff, or may have come under more internal scrutiny himself.
Mostly, though, the difference would have been atmospheric. Instead of the Vikings advancing one step closer to a Super Bowl, they would have looked and felt like the same team that so often fails, and so often fails predictably, in the postseason.
Would ownership have demanded changes? It’s hard to know. The Wilfs don’t often broadcast their intentions and have proved to be patient and loyal to their top employees.
We’ll never know because Williams, a quality young player, failed to make contact with a receiver standing in front of him with a playoff game hanging in the balance.
Wednesday, Zimmer sounded like he was tired of talking about the play. Which is funny. Because that play gave him his only playoff victory, and gifted him with the perception that the Vikings were still making progress.