EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—Their minds still racing with child-like exuberance over the stunning last-snap victory that sent them to the NFC championship game, many of the Minnesota Vikings remained awake several hours past midnight.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes replayed the video clip of the winning touchdown “about a thousand times” at home, searing the image of Stefon Diggs leaping to catch the pass from Case Keenum and then sprinting for the end zone into his memory forever so the details of the sequence that beat New Orleans no longer were foggy.
Ten seconds left. Trailing by one point. Sixty-one yards to go.
The outcome that produced the 29-24 victory was so improbable that the Vikings predictably were continuing to process their status as the first team in NFL history to score a winning touchdown on the final play of regulation in a post-season game.
“The Minneapolis Miracle,” as it was dubbed on social media, was as unfathomable as the name sounds.
“We still can't believe it in the locker-room,” admitted wide receiver Adam Thielen.
“I woke up this morning [Monday] and made sure it wasn't a dream.”
The Vikings were about a field-goal favourite on the early betting lines to beat the Eagles this coming Sunday and become the first team to play a Super Bowl on home turf.
“I believe anything is possible at any moment, as you can see what happened yesterday [Sunday],” Rhodes said.
Such an emotional ending carries the potential to distract from preparation for—and focus on—the next game at Philadelphia, when the winner's high will be worn off and the Vikings will be in an unfriendly stadium without the advantages and comforts of their own place.
They wouldn't have advanced this far without an unassuming attitude, though, so they were quick yesterday to dismiss the danger of savouring the moment too long.
“I think it took a little bit longer yesterday [Sunday] to probably get over it but, no, today [Monday] I think guys are ready,” Thielen said.
“We know how tough this game's going to be for us, and we know that we still have a long ways to go.”
For those anxiously and impatiently long-waiting fans of one of the NFL's most agonized franchises, Sunday's victory was evidence that whatever curse existed in their minds no longer might be relevant.
Sure, most of these players endured the missed 27-yard field-goal try by Blair Walsh in the closing seconds of the wild-card round defeat two years ago against Seattle.
Defensive end Brian Robison, at least, was on the 2009 team that lost in overtime at New Orleans in the NFC championship game.
Except for Thielen and the handful of Minnesota natives on the roster, though, those crushing losses of the past that helped shape Vikings' lore have not been a part of this team's experience, let alone the lives of most of the players.
“We're not playing to make up for anything," Thielen stressed. "We're just playing to win football games.”
To beat the Eagles, the Vikings have some more work to do. They won't have the crowd noise or the fast surface, for one.
They'll have to face a defence just as strong, if not stronger, than the Saints.
That's why coach Mike Zimmer, who let his guard down during an uncharacteristically playful post-game news conference Sunday, was all business at the podium inside the team's practice facility yesterday.
“We can't make these mistakes in playoff games or we'll be going home,” Zimmer warned.
“There's always good and always bad in some of the games, but we made some critical errors in that game that could have gotten us beat.”