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ATL at PHIJAX at PITNO at MINTEN at NE

Week 19 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 24, Minnesota Vikings 29


What you need to know

New Orleans Saints

This was really a tale of two halves for the Saints in Minnesota. The first half they were dominated by a smothering defense and let an efficient Viking offense put up 17 points for a comfortable lead. Then the second half came and Drew Brees looked like his former self and Alvin Kamara found some room to run. A small offensive adjustment took Michael Thomas off of Xavier Rhodes and the Saints went on a 24-6 run to give them a lead with :24 left on the clock. Then the unthinkable happened, while playing prevent defense, Stefon Diggs was able to take a 61-yard chuck and pray ball to the house for the walk-off Viking win. The entire Saints team was stunned and speechless. In a game where they fought and clawed there way back and featured 3 lead changes in the final 2:30 of play, the Saints had lost to the Minnesota Miracle. This Saints team has a lot of building blocks for the future and should be just as competitive next season.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Miracle will be forever etched into Viking lore and talked about for years to come if the Vikings can finish this playoff run with a Super Bowl title. This really was a tale of 2 halves as the Vikings were outright dominant in the first half and then seemed to forget they were there to play football until there was less than a minute to go in the second half. The defense was dominant and held the Saints to under 100 total yards rushing and intercepted Drew Brees twice. The offense managed 17 unanswered points in the first half but only managed 6 in the second half until Stefon Diggs walk-off touchdown. This was one of the most tightly contested and best games of the playoffs thus far, but now Minnesota will have to travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in the NFC championship game. A battle to 2 backup quarterbacks is on tap for next week with the winner heading to the Super Bowl.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 68 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 40 - 294 - 3 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - 1 - 0
At first glance, Brees final stat line looks pretty normal. He had almost 300 yards passing and threw 3 touchdowns. The interceptions did not seem to hurt as the Vikings did not turn them into many points. However, the 15 incompletions were the most he threw in a game all season and the interceptions came on the Vikings side of the field and took points off the board for the Saints. Brees could not click with Michael Thomas at all in the first half but found their groove in the second finishing two drives with touchdowns. The first touchdown came on a 14-yard pass to Thomas who simply ran a drag across the field and beat his man to the pylon for the easy touchdown. Brees lead him just far enough that the diving defender could not make a play on the ball. The second touchdown again came to Thomas who made a small move and was open right in the seam. The 3-yard pass was almost impossible to defend as Brees got the ball out so quickly and the corner did not press him at the line. The final touchdown came on a beautiful wheel route by Alvin Kamara. He outran Anthony Barr in the flat for the easy touchdown as his route was underneath two post routes from the outside and the defender got caught up in the wash of players. Brees did have a touchdown nullified by an illegal motion and then threw an interception a few plays later. The final Saints drive was vintage Brees. He ran the 2-minute drill to perfection and gave the Saints the lead with less than a minute left. Unfortunately, the defense could not hold on and the Saints will have to look towards next season.

RB Alvin Kamara, 45 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 43 - 0, Rec: 4 - 62 - 1 (7 targets)
The vaunted New Orleans rushing attack has been nonexistent in the playoffs. Neither running back ran for more than 45 yards and the team combined for less than 100 total yards on the ground. Kamara had 1 more carry than Ingram and 4 more touches total. He had slightly more success with a 3.9 yards per carry average, but that is far from his season average. Kamara's longest run of the day was 10 yards, but most of his damage came through the air. Kamara caught a 14-yard wheel route from Brees for the final Saints touchdown and a brief lead. The rookie running back worked the wheel underneath 2 post routes and was able to outrun his linebacker in coverage for an easy touchdown. There was a very similar play in the second half where Kamara leaked out on a wide receiver pass, but Willie Snead overthrew him for what would have been an easy touchdown. Kamara seems to be the back of the future in New Orleans and it will be interesting to see how much his role increases next season.

RB Mark Ingram, 27 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 25 - 0, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (1 targets)
The Vikings keyed in on stopping the run like they did in their week 1 matchup and Ingram became more of an afterthought in the Saints offense. Ingram was out-touched by Kamara 11 to 15 and was not effective with the carries he was given. Ingram managed 2.5 yards per carry and his longest run of the night was 9 yards. He was also not featured in the passing game as much with his lone target and reception for 3 yards. The Vikings did a great job taking away the run and this is now 2 consecutive games that the Saints rushing attack failed to perform. Kamara is clearly the back of the future in New Orleans and it will be interesting to see what happens with Ingram in the offseason.

WR Ted Ginn, 58 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 11 - 0, Rec: 8 - 72 - 0 (11 targets)
Ginn played a major role in keeping drives alive and moving the ball down the field. The Vikings were playing with a big bubble and respecting his ability to take the top off a defense and run by his defender. This allowed Ginn to work underneath and make 8-12 yard catches across the middle. The Vikings were quick to tackle the speedster and did not give him the chance to break off a long run. The biggest play of the day for Ginn was nullified on an illegal motion penalty by himself. Ginn proceeded to take that pass 29 yards into the end zone but had to come back after the penalty. Brees was picked off 3 plays later in the red zone and killed a very promising Saints drive.

WR Michael Thomas, 63 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 85 - 2 (13 targets)
The first half for Michael Thomas looked a lot like when these 2 teams first played each other. Thomas against Rhodes and Rhodes was getting the better of the matchup. The second half was a totally different story as a new scheme from New Orleans got Thomas on different defenders. Rhodes continued to play on the outside and Thomas moved around into the slot to create different matchups. The second half produced 2 touchdowns for Thomas when Rhodes was not in coverage. The first was a simple drag route across the field where Thomas outran his defender to the pylon and Brees lead him far enough that he could get in the end zone. The second was an easy 3-yard catch in the seam where Thomas made a quick move at the line and made the easy catch in front of a defender that did not press him at the line. Thomas was the target in the red zone where a tipped Drew Brees pass was intercepted, but that had more to do with great defensive line play than anything Thomas or Brees did. The second-year receiver wrapped up an amazing season and will be the focal point of the Saints passing attack for years to come.

WR Willie Snead, 46 offensive snaps, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rec: 2 - 18 - 0 (3 targets)
Snead makes the list this week more for something he was not able to complete than any other stat or catches he made in the game. Late in the second half, the Saints dug into their bag of tricks for a wide receiver pass. Brees motioned Snead towards the formation and looked to be throwing a simple quick screen play. However, Kamara had leaked out of the backfield and did not have a defender within 5 yards of him. Snead overthrew Kamara for what would have been an easy touchdown and would have given the Saints all of the momentum in the second half. Just a little less air under this ball would have changed the entire outcome of the game.


Minnesota Vikings

QB Case Keenum, 81 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 40 - 318 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0
Keenum looked to be cruising in the first half with a comfortable lead over the Saints and the ability to move the ball down the field. However, this all changed in the second half when Drew Brees and the Saints offense woke up and started to put pressure on Keenum to answer their scores. Keenum's stats are inflated due to the late 61-yard touchdown to Diggs to win the game and really do not paint an overall good picture of how he played. Keenum was not as accurate as he has been all season and missed on 15 passes today. He also had trouble driving the ball down the field and relied mostly on short passes and run after the catch from his receivers. Keenum also did not handle the pressure very well and had a habit of just heaving the ball down the field in the hopes that one of his receivers would come down with it. These jump balls were truly 50/50 as one was intercepted and the other was a highly acrobatic 24-yard catch by Adam Thielen. Keenum was rescued by the 61-yard chuck and pray touchdown to Stefon Diggs and he will have to play much better next week if he wants to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

RB Latavius Murray, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 19 - 50 - 1, Rec: 2 - 17 - 0 (2 targets)
If there was 1 weakness to this new and improved Saints defense, it was the running game. The Vikings had a comfortable lead going into the second half and tried to exploit this weakness to no avail. Murray had 19 carries but only averaged 2.6 yards per carry. He was often met in the backfield and could barely get past the line of scrimmage. He did have a 13-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty, but he was still able to cash in from the 1-yard line later on that same drive. Murray's touchdown run was pure power running up the middle and capped off a drive aided by over 50 yards in pass interference calls on the Saints. Murray was largely ineffective in the second half and this allowed the Saints to fight back and take a late lead. Murray was used sparingly in the passing game and managed 13 of his 17 receiving yards on a single play. Murray will have to play better next week if the Vikings want to beat the Eagles and advance to the Super Bowl.

RB Jerick McKinnon, 44 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 34 - 1, Rec: 3 - 6 - 0 (4 targets)
McKinnon had a very similar day to Murray and was really unable to get much going on the ground. He did score the first touchdown of the game for the Vikings with a 14-yard scamper off the left end. He was able to outrun the entire Saints defense and was untouched on his way to the end zone. McKinnon has always been the change of pace back to Murray, but neither could find much success. McKinnon did average 4.3 yards per carry to lead all running backs, but he was not given enough volume to really make a difference. Murray had 21 touches and McKinnon was only given 11. This has been par for the course all season long for the Vikings and will most likely continue through the rest of the playoffs.

WR Adam Thielen, 77 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 74 - 0 (9 targets)
Thielen played an integral part in keeping Viking drives alive this week but was held out of the end zone once again. Keenum looked to Thielen several times but did not give him much room to run with his passes. Thielen made several leaping and diving catches to bail out Keenum and move the chains. The biggest play of the day was a 24-yard reception where Keenum threw the ball off his back foot and it sailed high towards Thielen and 2 defenders. A similar pass had been intercepted earlier in the game but Thielen was able to go up and bring this ball in for a Viking first down. Thielen was hobbled on a tackle out of bounds late in the first half and did not seem to have the same speed and ability to cut for the rest of the game. There was no official injury ruling and he should be good to go next week but it is something worth watching as the week progresses.

WR Stefon Diggs, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 137 - 1 (10 targets)
The Minnesota Miracle is a direct result of Diggs not giving up in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter. Diggs had put together a solid game until this final play but really pushed things over the top with his 61-yard walk-off touchdown. During the bulk of the game, Diggs would make contested catch after contested catch and helped the Vikings move the chains in the first half. Then the second half rolled around and Keenum was erratic and the Vikings could not move the ball down the field. The final play of the game was the big story with Diggs running a deep crossing route and then coming back to a ball that Keenum launched up in the air down the sideline. Diggs went up high to get the ball and the Saints safety dove at his legs and missed entirely. Diggs came down and braced himself with his hand and was able to run into the end zone untouched. It looked as if his first thought was to get out of bounds and try a game-winning field goal. This is when Diggs noticed that there was no one in front of him and he galloped into the end zone and into Viking lore for the rest of his life.

TE Kyle Rudolph, 71 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 28 - 0 (8 targets)
Rudolph was not used as much this week with Diggs and Thielen receiving most of the work. Rudolph had 8 total targets but was unable to really do anything with the ball once he caught it. Keenum's passes were either high or along the sideline with no room to run for Rudolph. One of the more questionable decisions of the game was throwing the ball to Rudolph late in the 4th quarter and the big tight end running out of bounds rather than sliding inbounds to keep the clock rolling. The Vikings were in position to run the clock down and kick a game-winning field goal but decided to throw the ball 3 times and only complete it once to a receiver that ran out of bounds. This did not come back to haunt the Vikings in the end but would have been pointed to as what cost them the game in the end if Diggs had not scored that touchdown.