There has been a lot of talk around the NFL about how unique it is to have two quarterbacks who started the year as backups — the Eagles’ Nick Foles and the Vikings’ Case Keenum — facing each other for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
If there is one person in the league who can talk about the success of each player, it is Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur, of course, has helped guide Keenum to his best season as a pro with his great offensive system and play-calling this season.
But Shurmur also was offensive coordinator in Philadelphia in 2013 when Foles put together one of the best quarterbacking seasons in league history. Foles’ 119.2 passer rating remains the third-highest single-season mark in league history behind Aaron Rodgers in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2004.
Shurmur, who has been rumored to be the top head coaching candidate for the New York Giants next season, said he’s not surprised by Keenum’s success.
“When you get to know him, you understand that he has a chance to be a really good player,” Shurmur said. “I think what we’ve found here is a really good player, and a system, and the stars have crossed. He has gotten better and better each week.”
After facing a tenacious Saints defense last week, Shurmur said the Eagles are going to present a huge challenge defensively Sunday.
“From a defensive perspective they can pass rush,” he said. “They have four really good pass rushers. Actually, they have about eight of them. Their front seven is really good. Their linebackers are fast. We have to do a good job of blocking them when we throw it.”
The Eagles finished fourth in both total defense, giving up 306.5 yards per game, and scoring defense at 18.4 points per game. They will be the toughest defense the Vikings have faced.
Shurmur said the offensive line is going to have to improve their play in the divisional round.
“No doubt, this is a really good front,” he said. “They have good players at all four positions up front, so we have to have one of our best games.”
Foles can play
While some might be criticizing Foles’ play in his past four starts with the Eagles, Shurmur said he sees something different.
“It looks like he is getting more and more comfortable with their offense, and he is playing very well,” Shurmur said. “He certainly played well against Atlanta [last Saturday] and I have seen him play well over a long stretch of time.”
The Vikings defense should have a chance to slow the Eagles offense.
Against Atlanta, while Foles completed 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards and a 100.1 passer rating, NFL Next Gen Stats showed that only three of his completions were thrown 10 yards down the field or farther, and only six attempts went that far.
Compare that to Drew Brees, who had eight completions thrown 10 yards or more downfield on 15 attempts, including two for touchdowns, against the Vikings on Sunday.
When asked about having only Foles and the Eagles defense standing between the Vikings being the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl in their own stadium, Shurmur said, “It sure would be fun.”
The great catch by Stefon Diggs on Sunday reminded former Vikings coach Bud Grant of a similar catch made by Ahmad Rashad from Tommy Kramer in 1980 with time running out against the Browns that led to the Vikings reaching the playoffs.
I am one of the few members of the media who was at the “Minneapolis Miracle” on Sunday and also in attendance for the “Miracle at the Met” that day in 1980.
I was sitting with Browns owner Art Modell when one of the greatest comebacks in Vikings history occurred.
Grant talked about how the Vikings were trailing Cleveland 23-9 with 5:01 remaining and then scored twice in four minutes to get the score to 23-22.
The Vikings defense forced another stop on their own 20-yard line with 14 seconds left and no timeouts.
On Sunday, Diggs’ 61-yard TD catch-and-run came on a play called “Seven Heaven.” Back in 1980, Grant called for a “hook-and-ladder” play that went for 39 yards and moved them into scoring position.
“It was as important of a game as this one was,” Grant said. “The play before that Rashad catch was a pass to Joe Senser who lateraled to Teddy Brown to get down the field far enough because we were deep on our end of the field.
“That was as important a part of that [Hail Mary]. It gave us enough room to throw to the end zone. The Rashad catch was a deflection. He didn’t jump up and catch it like Diggs did. It was a deflection in the end zone and he reached out with one hand and made the catch in the end zone.”
Did Grant ever give up hope during that game?
“If you’re going to be a coach, you can never think that way,” he said. “As long as you have one second, you have to have a positive outlook. It doesn’t always turn out that way, but you have to keep in mind that you could win the game on the last second.”
First division crown
On Dec. 15, 1968, the Vikings were playing in Philadelphia for the final game of the regular season. They needed to beat the Eagles and have the Packers beat the Bears in Chicago.
The Vikings handled their end of the bargain with a 24-17 victory as Joe Kapp threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
“After the game we went to the locker room, and the time difference meant the game in Chicago was an hour behind,” Grant said.
What happened then was I called WCCO Radio and had them hook me into a radio broadcast that I listened to over the phone, then relayed the play-by-play to Grant and the Vikings players in the locker room.
There was a lot of tension in the room because the Packers’ third-quarter lead of 28-10 slowly dwindled as the Bears rallied to try and win the NFC Central.
The Bears scored 17 unanswered points to make it 28-27 and had the ball with a final try on fourth-and-14. Instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal, they went for a desperation heave that was intercepted by Ray Nitschke with no time left.
The Vikings had made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: email@example.com