In January, Case Keenum was part of one of the great plays in NFL history when he completed the Minneapolis Miracle, the touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs on the last play of the Vikings’ playoff win over the Saints. Now Keenum is the Broncos’ quarterback, and he gave fans in Denver a fantastic breakdown of the play, both from an Xs and Os perspective, and from a human perspective.
Keenum was at an event for Broncos season ticket holders when he was asked about the play, and he then spent several minutes at a whiteboard explaining every element of it.
In the Vikings’ playbook, the play was known as “Gun buffalo right key left 7 heaven.” Keenum first explained what that means.
“Buffalo is our formation. It’s three-by-one but it’s a ‘B’ word — buffalo — so that’s a bunch, and there’s an ‘f’ in it so that means the f is at the point,” Keenum said. “Key left is the protection, which means it’s a six-man protection, they’re going to block six.”
Keenum made a point of praising the protection he got, especially in a late-game situation where 300-pound offensive linemen are running down the field in the no-huddle offense.
“The offensive line blocked their tails off. In these situations, two-minute, these defensive ends . . . they know it’s a pass so they’re literally in a track stance and they’re just rushing as fast as it can. So it started there. They were incredible,” Keenum said of his offensive linemen.
Keenum then went through his progressions and explained that he saw three other options before deciding to throw to Diggs.
“I had my guy Adam Thielen at X and he had a 7 route. The first part of that play call was 7, so he had a 7 route, which was a corner route. He had more than his share of defenders. He ran a 7 route, I really wanted to throw to him, but he was covered up,” Keenum said. “On this side we layer it. There’s three layers. Kyle Rudolph, who was at Y, he runs the quick out to the sideline. Our F, Jarius Wright, he runs an intermediate out route. And Stefon, who’s at Z, he’s got the high angle 7 heaven. There’s no timeouts left, we’re at our 39, and I remember calling the play and saying, ‘Guys, I’m going to give one of you a chance.'”
Keenum stressed that everyone on the Vikings’ offense was exhausted, given the furious pace of the final minutes of that game.
“They had just run all the way down the field and then they had to run back, and these guys are blocking their tails off, and they know I have to hold onto the ball to let these guys get down the field,” Keenum said.
Saints rookie free safety Marcus Williams was widely viewed as the villain of the play in New Orleans. Keenum praised Williams but acknowledged that it was Williams’ breakdown in coverage that keyed the big play.
“The rookie safety is a great player, had an awesome year, but he was beat, so Stefon just flattened the angle a little bit,” Keenum said. “I just threw it to the sideline. I remember I lost vision of him a little bit behind my right guard and I couldn’t really see. I knew the ball came out of my hand really, really well. Sometimes it comes out good and this came out great — I knew it was right where I wanted to put it. But I couldn’t see where Stefon was. And all of a sudden I see Stefon’s hands, his white gloves, just coming out of nowhere, and I’m like, ‘He’s gonna catch this ball.’ And he catches it. And I tell you, I’ve been in some loud stadiums, but . . . they went crazy. I mean it was nuts. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard. I’ve been in Seattle, I’ve been in Kansas City, where they set the world record for loudest outdoor stadium, but it was loud. It was so loud.”
For an instant it looked like Diggs would step out of bounds to give the Vikings a chance at a last-second field goal. That’s what the receivers had been instructed to do, but Diggs saw a clear path to the end zone and disregarded those instructions.
“Everybody was yelling the same thing I was: ‘Get out of bounds,'” Keenum said. “And he comes down and he turns back inside and this guy [Williams] overshoots it. I don’t see any of that happen. I see Stefon fall and put his hand down and I’m like, ‘No! Get out of bounds!’ And then he starts running toward the end zone and he never gets tackled, and I don’t know what’s going on.”
Keenum still finds himself shocked at how the game ended.
“You talk about the best moment? It was an unbelievable moment,” Keenum said. “I still don’t believe it sometimes, that it happened. It was so crazy.”