The Minnesota Vikings had one of those moments that will live in history Sunday: The game-winning touchdown, the crowd cheering, the clock at zeroes, the team’s ticket to the NFC championship game punched. It was the first ever fourth-quarter walk-off touchdown in NFL postseason history, and Minnesota is a game away from becoming the first team to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium. In fact, no team before Minnesota had ever advanced to the championship round with a chance to play the Super Bowl on their home turf.
But there is always a flip side to these moments, and it is brutal. The Vikings would not be headed to the NFC championship game if not for one of the worst defensive breakdowns imaginable by the New Orleans Saints.
Stefon Diggs walked the touchdown in, but New Orleans safety Marcus Williams deserves at least as much credit for the play. Williams, the Saints’ second-round draft pick out of Utah, had the opportunity to tackle Diggs. Instead, he completely whiffed, missing Diggs and taking out his teammate Ken Crawley in the process:
Marcus Williams has some explaining to do after a whiff this egregious pic.twitter.com/M8NDlkBP3A— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) January 15, 2018
He doesn’t even graze Diggs. It looks like what happens in Madden when you accidentally tap the hit stick when your player isn’t near any opponents, causing him to hurl his pixelated body at nobody. He missed by so much that he’s a meme now.
The purpose of Minnesota’s play wasn’t even to score a touchdown. It was to quickly get into field goal range. The ball was snapped with 10 seconds left, and the Vikings didn’t have any timeouts. All four receivers on the play ran routes headed toward the sideline in hopes of getting out of bounds immediately after a quick catch.
The Saints knew this and tried to guard against it. Just look at how the Saints are defending the Vikings’ passing routes: They’re defending the sideline, barely even attempting to contest a potential completion.
They’re building a wall between the Vikings and the sideline. There’s logic to the idea: If a Saints defender allowed a completion and made a tackle inbounds, the game would be over.
It’s almost as if Williams’s tackle was an attempt to put his entire body between Diggs and the sideline, completely selling out to prevent Diggs from getting out of bounds. Williams surely assumed it was extremely important to prevent Diggs from reaching the sideline: There were still about five seconds remaining when the catch was made, and had Diggs immediately gone out of bounds, the Vikings would have had a chance to attempt a game-winning field goal from around 50 yards. Considering Vikings kicker Kai Forbath had just drilled a 53-yarder, the Saints might have lost if Williams had allowed Diggs to get out of bounds.
But the wall the Saints built in between the Vikings and the sideline was shoddy at best. It started at a strange area. I don’t know why New Orleans had a player defending the sideline 60 yards from the end zone, unless New Orleans’s pregame scouting report indicated that Forbath knows how to hit 80-yard field goals. The Saints apparently forgot that they could also lose this game by giving up a game-winning touchdown. And Williams was the only defender within 35 yards of the end zone.
Williams apparently didn’t realize he was the only defender within 35 yards of the end zone. The tackle he attempted was one a player with backup could go for, but he was the last line of defense, and it ended in disaster.
Williams had a strong rookie season, and he should have a nice career. But the decisions he made in these few seconds have him firmly on the flip side of history.