Somewhere down the line when the buzz of the moment wears off -- and even if it never does, Minnesota Vikings fans will fondly recall the moment when Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs etched their names in history with one of the greatest plays in the NFL postseason. Minnesota fought back late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints with Keenum’s last-chance heave that won the game 29-24 and punched the Vikings' ticket to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2009.
Reasons to be excited: The ride isn’t over. Minnesota is a three-point favorite at the Philadelphia Eagles and could become the first team to play in its home stadium in the Super Bowl. Keenum rose above the pressure of the moment and proved he could win the duel against a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. Even after he threw an interception in the third quarter, Keenum bounced back with magnificent throws to Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen, each of which set up field goals of 49 and 53 yards, respectively, that Kai Forbath booted with no trepidation. When Brees drove the Saints back in the second half, the Vikings turned to their No. 1 defense to save the day. A defining moment of this game is something we’ve seen the top third-down defense in NFL history do time and again. Defensive end Brian Robison tackled Alvin Kamara for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1, forcing New Orleans to kick a field goal with 25 seconds to play. Even with its stout defense coming through with a last-second stop, Minnesota proved that it can win games with offense.
Reasons to be concerned: Minnesota blew a 17-point lead against New Orleans. While the Eagles’ quarterback play is nowhere near the Saints’, Philly receiver Alshon Jeffery has caused this defense problems in the past, with seven touchdowns in nine games against the Vikings. Xavier Rhodes could see himself matched up against the Eagles' No. 1 wide receiver after struggling in coverage against Michael Thomas (seven catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns) and sustaining another in-game injury. Keenum was irritated with his errant throw that was picked off and set up a Saints touchdown. He has had several of those throws this season against Washington, Cincinnati and Green Bay, but the defenses he faced didn’t capitalize like New Orleans. If that happens again, it will be more difficult to overcome. The Vikings' and Eagles' strengths are one in the same. Philadelphia’s defense is just as stingy as Minnesota’s, leading the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (79.2) and fourth in total defense (306.5) and scoring (18.4).
What’s next: It’s the Case Keenum-Nick Foles matchup you always imagined playing out to determine who represents the NFC in the biggest game of the year. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Philadelphia, where the Vikings will play on the Eagles’ home turf on Sunday. Foles shook off a bad first half against the Atlanta Falcons and strung together drives of 74 and 80 yards in the second half to finish 23-of-30 passing for 246 yards. The Eagles' defense had its most important goal-line stand of the season, holding off a late push by the Falcons on which Matt Ryan's last-ditch effort on fourth-and-2 sailed through Julio Jones' hands in the end zone.