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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Minnesota Vikings leave it late to shock New Orleans Saints in NFL play-offs to set up showdown with Philadelphia Eagles

As Case Keenum convened the Minnesota huddle with 10 seconds left, the situation staring down the Vikings was as simple as it was daunting.

With the field goal by the New Orleans Saints that had put them 24-23 ahead that silenced the US Bank Stadium still fresh in the air, the Vikings were well beyond any moment of anxiety.

All that was left for Keenum to do on that last snap was to throw the ball up like he used to do in his Texas backyards and hope for the best.

Keenum completed his last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game's final play to Stefon Diggs, who slithered away from the Saints for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory and a spot in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

"At that point, I'm just a kid throwing a football to another big kid," Keenum said with a smile, "and he just runs and scores."

One more win, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, and the Vikings will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home turf.

Instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they're in a win-and-go-home situation.

"It never ends that way," Diggs said. "Usually, it's reality. It's life. So things go and you walk home and worry it about tomorrow."

Instead, Drew Brees and the Saints were the ones trudging off the field in defeat.

"We're still a bit shell-shocked after what happened there at the end," said Brees, who steered the Saints in position for Wil Lutz's 43-yard kick with 25 seconds remaining that punctuating a forceful rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.

The field goal was set up by a fourth-and-10 completion by Brees to Willie Snead for 13 yards to the Minnesota 33 with 40 seconds left.

Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 that spilled into the fourth quarter.

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The second score was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Marcus Williams, when an off-balance throw into traffic by Keenum served as his one costly moment of recklessness, a "bonehead play," as he put it.

Keenum settled back in. He guided the Vikings to two more field goals by Kai Forbath, including a 53-yarder with 1:29 left that was his third of the game against his former team and gave them their lead back after a blocked punt by George Johnson had set up the Saints for a touchdown pass by Brees to Alvin Kamara.

Then came the play that put Keenum and Diggs in permanent rotation on the NFL's all-time highlight reels.

"We knew there was still a possibility, still some hope," Keenum said.

Earlier on Sunday, Leonard Fournette ran for three touchdowns as the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 to advance to their first AFC Championship Game in 18 years.

The Jaguars, in the NFL's play-offs for the first time in a decade, will travel to reigning champions the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Jacksonville opened up a 21-point advantage in the second quarter and despite Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing five touchdowns, two to Antonio Brown, the Jaguars never relinquished their lead.