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An exceptional medley of great awareness Anthony Averett Jersey , terrific balance and deft reflexes allowed Stefon Diggs to ad lib and seize both the ball and the moment in the Vikings’ demon-exorcising ”Minneapolis Miracle .”
Diggs was supposed to go out of bounds if Case Keenum threw his way on the play dubbed ”Seven Heaven,” although in countless rehearsals at practice never did the pass go to the deep receiver, according to teammate Jarius Wright.
Ten seconds and no timeouts remained when Keenum dropped back from his 39 on third-and-10 in the hushed U.S. Bank Stadium, another haunting playoff heartbreak looming for Minnesota . New Orleans had taken a 24-23 lead just 15 seconds earlier.
The Saints had three defensive backs guarding the sideline as Kyle Rudolph, Wright and Diggs all ran sideline routes from the right of their formation.
Diggs was the deepest, with his break coming at about 25 yards, and just as he swiveled his hips he noticed nothing but green grass and purple end zone behind rookie free safety Marcus Williams, who was closing fast.
Diggs turned back to see the ball heading his way.
”I was thinking, `Catch it, get out of bounds and maybe kick a field goal,” Diggs said. ”I took a picture before I turned around to catch the ball. There was only one guy there. If he slipped, then I was going to try to stay up and keep it going.”
Williams, who had a key interception on a floater to Diggs in the third quarter, arrived a tad early. A pass interference flag would stop the clock with about 5 seconds left, giving the Vikings a chance at a field goal.
Williams awkwardly whiffed on Diggs, taking out cornerback Ken Crawley as Diggs came down Alex Collins Jersey , tucked the ball in his right arm and stuck his left hand in the turf to stay up.
If he stumbles there, maybe he gets caught and time runs out. But he kept his balance, his cool – and stayed in bounds – shooting toward the end zone like a sprinter coming out of the blocks.
His 61-yard touchdown catch was one of the NFL’s all-time last-play stunners and it erased four decades of heartache for a franchise that was victimized by Drew Pearson’s original ”Hail Mary” catch; Gary Anderson missing his only field goal of the season in the NFC title game; Brett Favre throwing across his body for a game-destroying pick in another NFC championship contest; and Blair Walsh shanking a short field goal against Seattle.
While the delirium echoed, Williams, the 42nd overall selection in last April’s NFL draft, sat sobbing in front of his cubicle in the Saints’ locker room.
”I’m going to take it upon myself,” Williams said after composing himself for a stand-up performance in front of the assembled media, ”to make sure nothing like this happens again to me.”
While the magical ending in Minnesota dominated the playoff discussions, there were other notable calls in the divisional round:
PAYTON’S CHALLENGES: Saints coach Sean Payton unsuccessfully challenged two calls on the same series in the fourth quarter: Wright’s 27-yard catch and Keenum’s knee not being down before he released the ball.
”Two very bad challenges by the Saints,” tweeted Tony Dungy. ”Not sure who is talking to Sean Payton in the Coaches booth but they have given him poor information.”
Payton explained afterward that the monitor in the team’s booth was malfunctioning, so he didn’t have an assistant coach warning him not to throw his red challenge flag.
MOVING ON: Tennessee’s 35-14 loss at New England turned out to be Mike Mularkey `s last as head coach of the Titans. He was fired Monday after leading them to their first playoff victory in 14 seasons.
A week after controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said Mularkey ”will be our head coach moving forward,” she dismissed him, saying, ”It became evident that we saw different paths to achieve greater success.”
Of the six head coaches ousted this cycle, only Mularkey made it to the playoffs.
FORGETTABLE FOURTH-AND-1s: Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley made two curious calls on fourth-and-1 in Pittsburgh’s 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
One was a pitch to Le’Veon Bell, who was dropped for a loss Patrick Onwuasor Jersey , and the other an incompletion to Juju Smith-Schuster.
Maybe Haley didn’t know Ben Roethlisberger is 18 for 19 on fourth-and-1 keepers in his career.
LOOKING AHEAD? On Saturday, Bell riled up the Jaguars and their fans when he tweeted, ”I love round 2’s … we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back weeks …”
Bell was assuming a rematch with the Patriots next weekend to avenge a 24-21 loss last month, the Steelers’ only defeat since a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville early in the season.
Bell wasn’t the only one presuming a Steelers-Patriots conference championship rematch.
In response to a recent quote from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, who said Pittsburgh would beat New England no matter where the AFC championship was played, the Jaguars had some fun following their big win Sunday, tweeting: ”You can play them on (at)EAMaddenNFL all offseason.”
The Oakland Raiders have officially hired Jon Gruden as their coach.
The team announced the move Saturday as soon as Gruden finished his final broadcast as an announcer for ESPN. Gruden will be formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday.
Gruden is returning for a second stint as coach of the Raiders after being traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season. He led the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl title over Oakland the following season. He has been out of coaching since being fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season.
The Raiders fired Jack Del Rio following the end of a disappointing six-win season. Oakland won 12 games in 2016 to earn Del Rio a four-year extension but the team fell flat this season.
The offense regressed after the decision to fire coordinator Bill Musgrave and replace him with untested Todd Downing. The defense struggled mightily before a late-season switch from fired coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to play-caller John Pagano.
That led to the decision to fire Del Rio following his third season and go hard after Gruden, who reportedly will get a 10-year contract worth an estimated $100 million.
Gruden spent four seasons as coach in Oakland from 1998-2001. After leading the Raiders to 8-8 records his first two years, Gruden helped the team reach the AFC title game following the 2000 season and got Oakland back into the playoffs the following season.
His tenure ended shortly after the ”Tuck Rule” loss to the New England Patriots when he was traded the following month to Tampa Bay for two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8 million.
Gruden beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers but didn’t win another playoff game for Tampa Bay in his final six seasons. He has a 95-81 career record.
This would not mark the first time the Raiders brought back a coach for a second stint. Late owner Al Davis hired Art Shell in 2006, 11 years after firing him the first time. Shell went 2-14 that season and was fired after one year.
Other teams have also done it, with one of the most recent notable coaching hires being Joe Gibbs in Washington. Gibbs stepped away following the 1992 season with three Super Bowl titles in his career. He came back in 2004 and had a 30-34 record in four seasons, leading Washington to two playoff berths.
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