There is no question that Case Keenum’s performance during the 2017 season for the Vikings is going to change his career.
He finished the season as the 45th-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, trailing signal-callers such as Ryan Mallett, Scott Tolzien, Matt Moore and Paxton Lynch.
Keenum also finished the season second in Total QBR, ESPN’s quarterback rating system, ahead of stars such as Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
“I think you dream about it, it’s always a dream, it’s why we play the game to play well and do what we do,” Keenum said about his season. “To see it come true has been incredible.”
Keenum learned the game from his father, Steve Keenum, a renowned high school football coach in Texas. Case said that when it came to the constant questions about his ability to start this season — and whether Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater would eventually take over his spot — he knew to keep his head down and just work.
“I had to try to put that out of my mind and not think about that,” Keenum said. “Really having that come up every week allowed me to just put my blinders on and not think about it, focus strictly on my job and what I had to do and let everything else come.”
Keenum finished the regular season with a 98.3 QB rating, slightly behind Bradford’s 99.3 mark in 2016 but ahead of Bridgewater’s 88.7 mark in 2015.
Slow start, historic finish
For all of the success that Keenum found, it’s worth remembering that when he took over in Week 2 for an injured Bradford, he lost 26-9 at Pittsburgh, then defeated Tampa Bay 34-17 before losing to the Lions 14-7.
It wasn’t the best start to what would become a record-setting year for the Vikings.
Did Keenum have any idea sitting at 2-2 overall after Week 4 that the team would go 11-1 over the final 13 weeks of the season?
“I mean, nobody can tell the future. I knew we had a talented group and I think we continued to grow as we went along,” he said. “It’s hard to say if anybody could have called this, but we are where we are and we know where we want to be. Everything is still out in front of us.”
How is his mind heading into the postseason?
“This week obviously detail things up, get some good reps in practice and try to make sure we focus on the details, the small things,” he said. “For me, I’m going to treat next week like I do each week and put everything I have into it and prepare extremely hard and go out there and do my best.”
The Vikings offense has slowed some in recent weeks, but Keenum said he remains confident. “I’ve always been confident in my abilities. I think being successful breeds confidence and we have been successful,” he said. “So I think a lot of guys are confident right now going into the playoffs.”
Happy to be at home
Next week will see Keenum make the first playoff start of his professional career, and he said that one of the things he is most excited about is playing at home in such a big game.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “Whoever we play, if we’re playing at home, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Can he appreciate how hard the crowd noise is on opposing QBs? “I appreciate that I’m not one of those guys,” he said. “I appreciate not having to go against our defense in our building. I can understand what they’re going through and know how tough it is.”
Offense came together
Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had an opportunity to interview for a number of head coaching jobs this past week. Keenum spoke of working with him, as well as with quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski.
“They have been great. This whole coaching staff has been absolutely tremendous,” he said. “I really enjoy working every day with Kevin Stefanski, and Pat does a great job of installing offenses and calling plays. They both do a great job of communicating what they want from me.”
When it came to Keenum’s numbers, he pointed to the benefit of playing with receivers such as Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and a tight end such as Kyle Rudolph. Those three combined to catch 20 of the Vikings’ 25 passing scores.
“Those three guys can catch the football, those are special guys. I think the chemistry has gotten better as the season has gone along, really worked on communicating with those guys and talking through different routes and how things develop on the field,” Keenum said. “It has been good.”
Still he saved his highest praise for the offensive line, which has done an outstanding job all season despite having to deal with various injuries.
“Our guys have done a good job adjusting to things that have gone on. We have a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions and move around,” he said. “I think it has been good to have those guys all on the same page and ready to go whenever their name is called.”
Yes, this offensive unit gelled in a way that no one saw coming, especially when Bradford went down. And it’s going to mean that Keenum is about to see a big payday, and maybe a Super Bowl ring as well.
• Among the many benefits to the Vikings getting a first-round bye is that it gives a chance for Kyle Rudolph to get fully healthy. Over the past four games, the tight end played in 50.4 percent of the offensive snaps per game, compared to 86.1 percent of snaps earlier this season.
• Peter King and his Monday Morning Quarterback staff at Sports Illustrated predicted the playoffs and 10 out of 11 writers had the Vikings making the Super Bowl. Four picked them to win it, including King.
• Eric Decker signed a one-year deal worth $4 million to play in Tennessee this year, and that paid off for the Titans when he caught the winning 22-yard touchdown in a 22-21 playoff victory over Kansas City on Saturday. It was the former Gophers receiver’s first career postseason TD in his sixth playoff game.
• The Timberwolves recorded their 24th victory on Jan. 1. Last year they did it on Feb. 27.
• ESPN reported this past week that former Wolves guard Zach LaVine is getting closer to making his debut for the Bulls and has been practicing with the team and its G-League affiliate. Lavine tore his ACL last year with the Wolves in February.
• The Twins making the playoffs last year didn’t make a big impact on Las Vegas oddsmakers, who put their odds to win the World Series at 75-1, tied for 20th in baseball.
• Edina’s Kieffer Bellows, the son of former North Stars standout Brian Bellows, led all players at the World Junior Championship with nine goals. Bellows, who is controlled by the New York Islanders, also has 40 points in 31 games with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.
• Jalen Suggs is starting as a sophomore for Minnehaha Academy and is averaging a team high 15.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the country for 2020 by ESPN.
• You have to wonder if former Gophers coach Tubby Smith is regretting his decision to leave Texas Tech for Memphis after leading the Red Raiders to the NCAA tournament in 2016. Texas Tech entered Saturday 12-1 and ranked No. 18 in the country and beat Kansas in Lawrence this past week. Memphis entered Saturday 9-6 and recently lost 82-48 to No. 21 Cincinnati.