Two years after Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard, walk-off touchdown vaulted the Vikings over the Saints in the NFC divisional round, neither party is overly interested in discussing the “Minneapolis Miracle” ahead of Sunday’s NFC wild-card game in New Orleans.
Saints coach Sean Payton said his players are “battle-tested” after back-to-back dramatic playoff exits, including last year’s NFC Championship loss to the Rams, but he isn’t going out of his way to use the loss at U.S. Bank Stadium as motivation. It may be regardless, because both teams’ starters are largely unchanged.
“When that play happened a few years ago, the first thing we pointed to was it comes down to one play, yet we were third-and-1,” Payton said Wednesday, “having an opportunity to get a first down there, we could’ve bled the clock down to three seconds really and kick that field goal. So there’s many things that went into that game.”
Diggs, recipient of quarterback Case Keenum’s game-winning throw, tepidly recalled the play and how often it is referenced by fans. Saints safety Marcus Williams, who infamously missed the tackle on Diggs, leads New Orleans with four interceptions this season.
“I get asked a little bit when I go outside. You kind of take the good with the bad,” Diggs said. “There’s no bad in that, but it’s definitely a memory.”
Kendricks still sidelined
Linebacker Eric Kendricks lunged and squatted through rehab work off to the side of Vikings practice Wednesday as he remains sidelined because of a Dec. 23 quad injury suffered against the Packers. Kendricks has not practiced since the injury, and his status is unclear against the Saints. Zimmer said he “thinks” Kendricks will play.
The Vikings were also without defensive end Stephen Weatherly (illness), cornerback Mackensie Alexander (knee) and safety Andrew Sendejo (illness) during Wednesday’s practice.
Mattison expected to play
The Vikings backfield should be at full strength Sunday as running back Alexander Mattison said he expects to play against the Saints. Mattison, dealing with an ankle sprain suffered Dec. 8 against the Lions, has missed three games but will return for his first NFL playoff game in his rookie season.
Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 100 attempts this season.
“It’s not something that happens very often,” Mattison said. “I’m blessed that I’m surrounded by a great group of guys and an amazing team. We have a chance to do something special.”
Brett Jones returned to practice Wednesday, giving the 28-year-old Vikings center a chance to test his knee before the offseason. Jones was placed on injured reserve Nov. 14 after tearing an MCL in practice. He is designated for return but isn’t eligible to play until the NFC Championship Game because of NFL rules requiring I.R. players to miss at least eight games.
But there’s value in practice reps for Jones, who otherwise would have waited until May.
“You get to go out there and test it and feel good,” Jones said. “When you’re not out there, you’re wondering, ‘Well can I do it or not?’ Now you know.”
‘Where you want to play’
After placing defensive tackle Armon Watts on injured reserve this week, the Vikings signed defensive end Eddie Yarbrough off the Bills practice squad. Yarbrough, a fourth-year undrafted player out of Wyoming, suited up for 31 games for Buffalo — making six starts — before spending this year on the practice squad.
Yarbrough said he’s studying “flash cards” and all, in case he’s needed Sunday in New Orleans.
“It’s a dream come true,” Yarbrough said. “Talking to a couple of my old teammates, saying the facilities here are lights-out. Even when we played here, the fans – this is where you want to play.”