The date was January 14, 2018. The site was U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN, and the event was an NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. The Saints came into the game as the NFC South champions and the conference's number 4 seed, after defeating the Carolina Panthers 31-26 in the first round the week before. New Orleans finished the 2017 regular season with an 11-5 record, and had Super Bowl aspirations with arguably the most balanced offense in the league and a vastly improved defense. One of the obstacles in their way was the 2nd-seeded and NFC North champion Vikings, who finished the season at 13-3, and had arguably the best defense in the league, coupled with a balanced offensive attack of their own. Minnesota had already defeated the Saints earlier that season, a dominating 29-19 victory in the regular season opener.
Most felt that the Saints best chance for victory in a hostile environment against such a formidable foe would be getting off to a good start, but the exact opposite took place. After receiving the opening kickoff but failing to get a first down, New Orleans would punt the ball over. The Vikings would take their opening drive 55 yards on 8 plays ending in a touchdown run by Jerick McKinnon. Matters got worse for the Saints when they failed to sustain a drive the second time they had the ball, and the Vikings would respond with a field goal on their subsequent drive for a 10-0 lead. After an exchange of punts, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw an interception towards the end of the first quarter that Minnesota would turn into a 12-play 58 yard touchdown drive and a 17-0 advantage midway through the second quarter. Each team would miss a long field goal attempt before the end of the half, but Minnesota would take their seventeen point lead into the halftime break in a game that looked like a sure rout for the home team.
When a sack by Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins ended a Minnesota scoring threat on the opening drive of the third quarter, the New Orleans offense would finally come to life. Brees led his team on a 12-play, 80 yard march that would end with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to cut the Minnesota lead to 17-7. Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams would intercept Viking quarterback Case Keenum on the very first play of the next drive, setting New Orleans up well into Minnesota territory. The Saints took advantage, moving 30 yards in six plays and narrowing the score to 17-14 early into the 4th quarter on a three yard touchdown pass to Thomas, who had 7 catches for 85 yards and two scores on the day.
That was the start of a wild fourth quarter that saw the lead change hands four times and the two teams would combine to score 29 points. Kai Forbath, a former kicker for the Saints, would kick a long field goal to extend Minnesota's lead to 20-14, and the team's would exchange punts over the next two possessions. Brees, who would finish with 294 yards passing with 2 interceptions and three scores after a rocky first half, spearheaded a forty yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 14-yd. strike to rookie Alvin Kamara. The score would give New Orleans it's first lead of the day, 21-20, but the entertainment was far from finished. Minnesota would retake the lead 23-20 on another long Forbath field goal, this one from 53 yards, with just 1:34 to play in the game. Brees again would lead his team on a scoring drive through the vaunted Minnesota defense. This one would move New Orleans 50 yards in 11 plays, ending in a 43-yd. Wil Lutz field goal and a 24-23 Saints lead with just 25 seconds to play. After a false start penalty, Keenum would complete a pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs to bring the ball to the Vikings 39-yd. line. Two incomplete passes would follow, leaving Minnesota in a 3rd and 10 with only 10 seconds remaining.
Keenum would drop back to pass and look deep to his right. Despite pressure off the edge from New Orleans end Cam Jordan, he got the pass off deep down the right sideline, where receiver Stefon Diggs had gotten behind Saints cornerback Ken Crawley.
Diggs hauled the ball in at the New Orleans 34 yard line with 5 seconds on the clock, but squarely in the sights of safety Marcus Williams for the tackle. Minnesota had no timeouts remaining, so a stop would have surely run out the clock for a New Orleans victory.
Instead....incredibly, Williams missed Diggs and instead took out the trailing Crawley. Diggs, who caught 13 passes for 230 yards and three scores in the two meetings against the Saints last year, kept his footing and sprinted in for the game winning 61-yd. touchdown that crushed the hopes and hearts of Saints players, coaches, and fans.
The win would send Minnesota onto the NFC Championship game at Philadelphia, where they would lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles.
The shocking loss would spoil what was a spirited and improbable comeback from the Saints, who were left only to wonder what could have been. A game added to the annals of a number of postseason misses, sometimes in impossible to believe finishes.
Which was the most heartbreaking postseason defeat in Saints history?
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1988 wild card - vs. Minnesota
1991 wild card - vs. Atlanta
1993 wild card - vs. Philadelphia
2007 championship - at Chicago
2011 wild card - at Seattle
2012 divisional - at San Francisco
2014 divisional - at Seattle
2018 divisional - at Minnesota