MINNEAPOLIS - A game the Saints had no business winning turned out to be a game they had no business losing and a great game for national sports fans will be a haunting defeat – the record will show 29-24 Vikings win - for the Saints nation, perhaps for years and decades to come.
Who knows what would have happened if Marcus Williams had made a tackle. If Stefon Diggs had gotten out of bounds, perhaps there's a rushed field goal try. Since he was coming back to the ball, perhaps the referee rules the clock to keep running and it runs out. Perhaps he gets tackled in bounds. Perhaps Williams was trying to avoid the only other awful outcome, a pass interference penalty and an unrushed field goal try.
It wasn't on as big of a stage, but, at the moment, to football fans, it may seem that Marcus Williams is Bill Buckner and Stefon Diggs was Mookie Wilson (look it up millennials).
"He came down and made a great play. That’s on me," said Williams after the game. "I’ve just got to make the tackle when he comes down… there was 10 seconds left, I know the situation, you’ve just got to make a play. I’m going to take it upon myself to do all I can to never let that happen again. If it happens again, I shouldn’t be playing."
The Saints were playing with house money. After all, they were mercilessly beaten around in the first half and had no business being in the ball game. But then, Drew Brees became last week's Drew Brees. Michael Thomas became one of the league's best – and toughest – receivers (which he already was), and Alvin Kamara and Cam Jordan were coming through.
The rolling Saints had the playoff-inexperienced Vikings on their heels and truth be told, no one liked the Vikings' chances. They had already shown some mettle, coming back for a go-ahead 53-yard field goal by once-cut Saints kicker Kai Forbath, and then watched as Brees' put on a rousing, pantheon-type drive against the league's best defense, which included a 4th down and 10 completion to Willie Snead for a first that put the team firmly in field goal range.
Will Lutz answered and the Saints were up again – this time 24-23.
By this time Keenum was looking human and Jordan and the D were getting pressure. The Vikings had a false start on the first play of the series and the clock was ticking down.
On paper it goes down as a 75-yard drive in 25 seconds. In Saints lore, it probably stands alone. The loss to the 49ers in 2011 hurt and hurt badly, but it didn't come on one play when you seemingly had it won. There were other Hail Mary losses, but none with so much on the line.
"In our game, you play long enough, you win some like that. The losses are harder to get over," said Saints head coach Sean Payton, who also spent a great deal of time trying to take the onus off of Williams as the game's goat. "At some point it will pass. It'll just take a little bit of time."
For Saints fans, many of whom felt they were playing with house money during the second half rally, it was really the only way the game could have ended so painfully. If Brees doesn't hit that fourth down completion, or if the Vikes had hit a couple of passes and then kicked a field goal, it would have been easier to take.
To think you had no chance and suddenly be in control of the outcome was a present. "Theft" is how one Saints fan explained it. Then, all of a sudden, it was yours to lose – and you did.