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Vikings shock Saints with 61-yard touchdown as time expires to clinch berth in NFC title game

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Riggs (14) runs

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Riggs (14) runs in for a game winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. The Vikings defeated the Saints 29-24. Credit: AP / Jeff Roberson

MINNEAPOLIS — There wasn’t much left for Case Keenum to do but to fling the ball deep and hope for a miracle.

Miracle answered.

Keenum completed a last-ditch heave near the sideline on the game’s final play, and Stefon Diggs slithered away for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a wild 29-24 victory over the Saints Sunday.

Minnesota advances to the NFC Championship Game, with one more win needed to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

The walk-off win was the first playoff game in NFL history to end on the final play of regulation, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when Keenum dropped back with 10 seconds to go from his 39 and threw high into a crowd.

Diggs jumped in front of Marcus Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath Diggs during an ill-fated attempt at a tackle. Diggs held his ground, kept his feet in bounds and raced untouched into the end zone as the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted.

“I’m just thankful,” Diggs said. “They count us out all the time. Nobody thinking we can do it. This game was over. I don’t stop playing till the clock hit zero. That’s it.”

The Vikings led 17-0 at halftime but Drew Brees and the Saints marched all the way back. Brees had driven the Saints in position for Wil Lutz’s go-ahead 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds left, punctuating a steely rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.

The finish wasn’t quite Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception for Pittsburgh in the 1972 playoffs, but these Vikings are on some kind of special path. They finished 13-3 during the regular season, giving the career backup Keenum the keys to the offense after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury.

“A heck of a game, wasn’t it?” coach Mike Zimmer said. “And the good guys won.”

Now the Vikings have spun an unprecedented scenario in NFL history. Next weekend, instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they’re in a win-and-go-home situation with the Super Bowl set for Feb. 4 under the reverberating translucent roof of U.S. Bank Stadium. Though only defensive end Brian Robison remains from the 2009 team that lost in overtime of the NFC Championship Game at New Orleans, the Vikings exacted some revenge on Brees and the Saints, at least for their long-frustrated fans.

They put them through quite the emotional finish to complete it. Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 of the second half. The first score came after a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The second was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Williams after an off-balance throw by Keenum, his one costly moment of either inexperience or recklessness.

When George Johnson blocked Ryan Quigley’s punt, the Saints took over at the Vikings’ 40. Four plays later, rookie sensation Alvin Kamara caught a 14-yard pass from Brees for a 21-20 lead with 3:01 left. Forbath’s 53-yard field goal, his third make of the evening against his former team, gave the Vikings their lead back with 1:29 left.

That was more than enough time for Brees, the sure-bet Hall of Famer with a Super Bowl ring and all kinds of records. But after Brees got Lutz in position, there were just enough time left for Keenum — the undrafted and undersized all-time leading passer in NCAA history at Houston whose first career playoff start ended in spectacular fashion.

He finished with 318 yards, going 25-for-40, with Diggs catching 137 yards on six catches.

“This will take a while to get over,” said Payton, who fell to 1-5 on the road in playoff games. Brees saw his 13th career postseason game end in a crushing final moment, his 25-for-40 performance for 294 yards tainted a bit by two interceptions before halftime. One came on a leaping grab by safety Andrew Sendejo, the other off a tip by Everson Griffen that landed in Anthony Barr’s arms at the Minnesota 10-yard line midway through the third quarter.

Playoff walk-offs

Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard TD catch and run on the final play of the game was one of the wildest endings to an NFL playoff game. A look at the other most memorable moments.

The Immaculate Reception, Dec. 23, 1972, AFC Divisonal

Facing fourth-and-10 from their own 40 with 22 seconds left, Terry Bradshaw threw a pass intended for John Fuqua. Right as the ball was arriving, Raiders safety Jack Tatum hit Fuqua, the ball ricocheting backward where Franco Harris famously caught it and rumbled in for the controversial touchdown.

The first Hail Mary, Dec. 28, 1975, NFC Divisional

Roger Staubach’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson not only beat the Vikings, it was the origin of the term “Hail Mary” pass. When asked about the throw, he told reporters, “Well, I guess you could call it a Hail Mary. You throw it up and pray,” he recalled to USA Today Sports in 2017.

The Music City Miracle, Jan. 8, 2000, AFC Wild-Card

The Titans stunned the Bills when Frank Wychek threw a controversial lateral pass to Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards up the sideline untouched for the improbable win.

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