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As a long-suffering Vikings fan, it’s time for them to end the drought and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving team. On Sunday, Case Keenum, the player who started the season as the Vikings’ backup quarterback, connected with Stefon Diggs to produce the greatest memory in Twin sports history since Dan Gladden raced home in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

The stories are eerily similar, though there are some dissimilarities. For instance, the Twins started the season with a 2-9 record. The Vikings got off to a slow start at 2-2 before starting on an 8-game winning streak. In early April of 1991, Twins fans were skeptical that the Twins could be a .500 team. Thoughts of winning a World Series championship weren’t just distant. With the fans, they didn’t exist. With the Vikings’ defense, there was reason for optimism for the team, although winning a Super Bowl championship in their home stadium wasn’t common.

The similarities start when the Twins took off on a 15-game win streak that ended in Baltimore and the Vikings ran off an 8-game win streak that ended in Carolina. Another similarity was that the teams had great defenses and a couple superstars that played like superstars. Most importantly, Tom Kelly and Mike Zimmer both preached the importance of playing seamless, complimentary ball.

That meant different contributors each night. With the Twins, that meant contributions from Mike Pagliarulo and Scott Leius at third, Chuck Knoblauch at second and Shane Mack in the outfield. With the Vikings, it’s meant unexpected but welcome contributions from safety Andrew Sendejo, defensive linemen like Shamar Stephen, Tom Johnson and offensive linemen like Rashod Hill and Jeremiah Sirles and breakout seasons by Case Keenum and Adam Thielen.

In his 1991 article titled “A Series to Savor“, Steve Rushin wrote this:

For it was only 24 hours earlier that Minnesota centerfielder Kirby Puckett had virtually single-handedly forced a seventh game by assembling what has to rank among the most outrageous all-around performances the World Series has ever seen. Puckett punctuated his night by hitting a home run in the bottom of the 11th inning off Atlanta’s Charlie Liebrandt. The solo shot gave the Twins a 4-3 win and gave Puckett’s teammates the same “chill-bump feeling” Braves manager Bobby Cox confessed to having had in Atlanta, where the Braves had swept Games 3, 4 and 5 earlier in the week to take a three games to two lead into Minneapolis.

Hrbek was reduced to a 10-year-old when the Series was tied last Saturday night; Sunday morning would be Christmas Day. “Guys will be staring at the ceiling tonight,” he said following Game 6. “They won’t even know if their wives are next to ’em. I know I won’t. She won’t want to hear that, but….”

Minnesota hitting coach Terry Crowley was reduced to a doddering man in long underwear that same evening, pacing a small circle in the clubhouse, head down and muttering to no one, “It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

And Twins manager Tom Kelly fairly shed his skin in the aftermath of that game, wriggling from the hard exterior he has worn throughout his career and revealing himself to be, like the rest of us, both awed and addled by all he had witnessed. “This is storybook,” Kelly said. “Who’s got the script? Who is writing this? Can you imagine this?

I’ve now had 2 such moments of watching Minnesota sports that simply can’t be adequately described. They can’t be explained. They must be experienced.

It isn’t understatement to say that Stefon Diggs’ reception and run to the end zone will be seen as a transcendent moment. It’s almost to that point already. Here’s Diggs’ electric play:

Here’s Gene Larkin’s magical moment:

Sunday’s game between the visiting New Orleans Saints and the hosting Minnesota Vikings is an instant classic. We don’t need to wait for history to render its verdict. We don’t need to analyze or overanalyze this clash between the Saints and Vikings. To Vikings’ fans who’ve endured the Super Bowl losses and the heartbreaking finishes in 1998 and 2015, Sunday’s game isn’t just redemption. It’s the game that The Curse was broken.

It’s crazy to say this but the Vikings’ offense, though it didn’t play fantastic, outplayed the Vikings’ defense Sunday. As a result, the Vikings will meet Philadelphia in next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game to determine which team will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If the Vikings win next Sunday, they’ll become the first time to play in the Super Bowl played in their home stadium because the Super Bowl will be held in US Bank Stadium.

But I digress.

Case Keenum threw an ill-advised pass down the sidelines that was intercepted. That Saints turned that interception into their second touchdown. The momentum swing was felt throughout Vikings Nation. When the Saints finally took the lead with 3:01 left in the game, Vikings Nation was worried. They felt better when Keenum engineered a drive that put the Vikings up 23-21 but there was too much time left for Drew Brees to work his magic. When Will Lutz kicked the go-ahead field goal with 25 seconds left in the game, Vikings Nation again thought the worst. After a false start penalty, the Vikings got a timely catch by Stefon Diggs with 17 seconds left. Because he was tackled in the field of play, the Vikings had to use their final timeout. After 2 incomplete passes, this happened:

The minute Stefon Diggs sprinted into the end zone, Vikings fans attending the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game erupted with joy:

Nobody brings it home like Paul Allen, the Vikings’ radio play-by-play announcer:

Needless to say, the moment left Diggs speechless:

Everson Griffen, the captain of the Vikings’ defense, was speechless, too:

I’ve been a Minnesota sports fan since 1966, when I saw my first Twins game at Metropolitan Stadium. The only moments that surpass Diggs’ touchdown were Kirby Puckett’s walk off home run against the Braves’ Charlie Liebrandt in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 1991 World Series and Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Historical footnote: Jack Buck was the play-by-play announcer for those games. Sunday night, his son Joe Buck was the play-by-play announcer for the Vikings game. How cool is that? Vikings fans will remember where they were when Stefon Diggs broke the tackle, then raced to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Wow! What a game.

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When the stories are written about Minnesota’s sports stories of the year, the Minnesota Twins going from being the worst team in baseball to being a playoff team will certainly be mentioned. In 2016, the Twins finished with a major league worst 59 wins. When this year finished, the Twins had lost to the New York Yankees in a 1-game playoff. The difference between 2016 and 2017 was the coming-of-age of the Twins young stars. Early on, the difference-maker was Miguel Sano. Sano’s homers, like Harmon’s, stayed hit:

The Twins developed an identity of being one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Joe Mauer played Gold Glove defense at first base but wasn’t rewarded. Brian Dozier had an outstanding season defensively and won a Gold Glove for his defense at second base. It was Byron Buxton, though, who led the defense, becoming the first Twin to win the Major League Defensive Player of the Year, thanks to catches that left Twins fans speechless. This catch topped the list:

This was special, too:

Another great sports story is still getting written in US Bank Stadium. In 2016, the Vikings were decimated by injuries. They lost Teddy Bridgewater a week before the season. The offensive line went from a next-man-up mentality to a last-man-standing proposition. Despite that, the Vikings finished 8-8. This year, the Vikings lost their starting QB after an opening game victory. They lost Dalvin Cook during the 4th game of the season. After 4 games, the Vikings owned a 2-2 record. Then they ripped off an 8-game winning streak. This afternoon, they’ll try to finish off a 13-3 regular season. Vikings fans are hoping to finish off cheering for the Vikings in the last game of the 2017 playoffs (in US Bank Stadium.)

The Vikings offense has been fun to watch but the Vikings’ defense has dominated. Defensive end Everson Griffen dominated early. Harrison Smith, aka Harry the Hitman, flashed his skills from time to time. Xavier Rhodes, aka Rhodes Closed, was sterling throughout. We won’t forget this diving, one-handed interception by Smith:

We won’t forget this game-finishing interception, either:

The Vikings are the definition of a team. What other team’s fans would give the back-up quarterback this type of ovation?

The Vikings’ story is still being written. Let’s hope that their last game this season is part of next year’s sports stories of the year.

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It’s time for the NFL to admit that the Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl Championship contender. Thanks to their dominant victory over Atlanta (in Atlanta) and Seattle’s victory over Philadelphia, the Vikings are now the top seed in the NFC. Both teams have 10-2 records but the Vikings would get the top seed because they’d win the 4th tie-breaker.

Case Keenum turned in another impressive performance completing 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards and 2 TDs without any interceptions. Making that stat-line all the more impressive is the fact that he completed all 13 of his passes in the second half.

The game was won on defense, though. Last week, Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards. This week, playing against Xavier Rhodes, the best corner in the game, Jones caught 2 passes for a total of 24 yards. The Vikings’ pass rush intimidated Atlanta so much that they abandoned 5- and 7-step drop plays. That made things easier for Rhodes, who didn’t have to cover Jones as long. After the game, Deion Sanders called Xavier Rhodes a call to congratulate Rhodes on his performance. Check this out:

Mike Wobschall at said this about Mike Zimmer’s defensive game plan:

We saw yet another team significantly alter their offensive strategy, specifically as it relates to the passing game, while going against the Vikings defense. Opposing offenses continue to feature the quick-strike passing game, likely to take away the Vikings pass rush. The good news for opposing offenses is that does reduce the number of sacks the Vikings have; Ryan wasn’t sacked on Sunday. The bad news is it severely limits the ability to register explosive gains. The Falcons came into Sunday’s game averaging 9.3 explosive gains per game, and against the Vikings they had one. This is largely because Atlanta essentially refused to put Ryan on a five-step or seven-step drop to give receivers time to get open downfield. The few times Ryan did try that, he was blasted right as he released the ball and the passes fell incomplete as Ryan tried to pick himself up off the turf.

The difference between the Vikings’ defense and the rest of the league’s top defenses is that the Vikings are loaded at all 3 levels, the Vikings are super-physical and the Vikings’ defenders are the best tacklers in the league.

The Vikings came into the game with the top third-down defense. Atlanta came into the game with the best third-down offense. When the statistics were compiled, the Vikings’ defense stopped Atlanta’s offense 9 times in 10 third-down opportunities.

As good as they’ve been, there’s no letting up for the Vikings. Next week, they take on the Carolina Panthers in Carolina. Considering the fact that the Panthers got whipped by the Saints yesterday, the Panthers will likely be ready to play the game of their lives. The good news for the Vikings is that they’ve met each of their challenges this season.

After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, criticized, NFL owners tried limiting the PR hit the NFL will take for taking a knee rather than standing at attention for the National Anthem by releasing statements. Zygi and Mark Wilf issued this statement.

The statement says “Professional sports offer a platform unlike any other, a platform that can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together to impact positive change in our society. As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner. Rather than make divisive statements, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.”

With all due respect to the Vikings, that statement is spin. For instance, saying that “we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities” is BS. When the St. Louis Rams’ wide receivers came out of the tunnel and did the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture, was that the Wilfs’ idea of promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities”?

Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, took a different approach:

“We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”

I wonder if Mr. Bisciotti would feel the same way if one of his employees spoke out of turn for one of his other companies, especially if that employee’s statement hurt Mr. Bisciotti’s business. I’m betting that Mr. Bisciotti wouldn’t have the same attitude with his less famous employees who hurt his business. And make no mistake about this. Mr. Bisciotti’s NFL ’employees’ are hurting his business.

Like Zygi Wilf, Commissioner Goodell is an East Coast progressive. They live inside the East Coast progressive echochamber. Witness the surprise that Commissioner Goodell had when the public criticized him for his Ray Rice suspension. He didn’t have a clue that the penalty was inadequate. It wasn’t until he realized that the NFL was experiencing a PR nightmare that he revised the penalties.

The NFL ratings will continue to take a hit. There might be some fluctuations but the trend will be unmistakable. Until the NFL and the Vikings start understanding what people expect, their PR problems and their product will suffer.

The only thing you can say about the Vikings’ season opener is that they dominated the New Orleans Saints in every facet of the game. Sam Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards. (That’s an 84.4% completion percentage and a QB rating of 143.) Stefon Diggs caught 7 passes, including 2 for touchdowns, worth 93 yards. What’s frightening is that he wasn’t the best wideout on the field for the Vikings. That was Adam Thielen. Thielen walked on at D-3 Minnesota State, Mankato. Then he wasn’t drafted so he tried out for the Vikings. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad. Tonight, Thielen caught 9 passes worth 157 yards.

Rumor has it that former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was in the house tonight. Rumor also has it that future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees was in the house tonight, too. Adrian’s first run was his longest of the night. It was for 9 yards. Brees played valiantly but it wasn’t nearly enough. He didn’t throw for a touchdown until New Orleans had all but officially lost.

The national media played up the Adrian Peterson vs. Dalvin Cook matchup. That wasn’t fair … to Adrian. While Adrian rushed for 18 yards on 6 carries, Dalvin Cook ran the ball 22 times for 127 yards, including a 33-yard run on third-and-7 that sealed the game:

The other major story from tonight’s season opener was the Vikings’ offensive line play. They protected Sam Bradford. They opened holes for Dalvin Cook. You know the line is playing well when the QB completes 85% of his passes and 8 of those completions were for more than 20 yards. The Vikings ran the ball 28 times and averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry. There were lots of Vikings fans that worried how they’d play. I’m one of them.

The offensive line had 5 new starters. Berger moved from center to right guard to make room for Ohio State rookie Pat Elflein. It’s easy to see why the Vikings traded up in this year’s draft to pick him. That kid’s got lots of Pro Bowls in his future. The free agent tackles played well at times, though Remmers still had some unsteady moments. LT Riley Rieff played a strong game.

The thing that’s obvious is that this unit is significantly more athletic than any offensive line during the Zimmer era. During the game, they flashed a graphic that said tonight’s opening game was the first time those 5 players played together. It certainly didn’t look that way.

Notice what I haven’t mentioned thus far. I haven’t mentioned the Vikings defense. That isn’t because they didn’t play well. There’s no denying that Brees was fairly productive. He threw for 273 yards and a late touchdown. Everson Griffen got the Vikings only sack of the night. That doesn’t come close to telling the story, though. The Vikings’ secondary contested every throw Brees made. The defensive line surrounded Brees much of the night. Brees felt claustrophobic all night, like he was throwing from inside a phone booth.

Next up for the Vikings are the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. Let the trash-talking begin.

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Anyone who’s been a Vikings fan the last 20+ years knows that Adrian Peterson’s performance in 2012 is a performance for the ages. That’s the year Adrian rushed for 2,097 yards, the second-most rushing yards in an NFL season. The reason why that’s part of AP’s mystique is because he did that less than a year after tearing his ACL in the fifteenth game of the 2011 season. When Adrian announced that he’d start Game One of the 2012 season a week after he had surgery to repair his knee, the experts laughed.

According to the splits for his 2012 season, Adrian is 4 rushing yards ahead of that year’s pace this year. Here’s the game-by-game split of Adrian’s 2012 season:

According to these NFL-certified stats, Adrian Peterson had 957 yards rushing after 9 games in 2012. This year, Adrian Peterson has 961 yards rushing after 9 games. This year, the Vikings finish with a home-and-home series against the Packers, road games at Atlanta and Arizona and home games against Seattle, Chicago and the Giants.

Right now, Adrian is on pace to reach 1,708 yards rushing. In my estimation, that gives Adrian at least an outside shot at breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. If AP rushes for 2,000 yards, which I think is, at worst, a 50-50 proposition, that’d mean he’d become the only runner to twice top 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. To reach 2,000 yards, it’s likely that Adrian would need at least one more 200 yard rushing game.

Right now, Adrian is tied with O.J. Simpson for most games with 200 yards rushing in a single game. They’re tied at 6 games with 200 yards rushing. The next time Adrian tops 200, which might be this Sunday against the Packers, he’d break Simpson’s record.

Suffice it to say that it’s going to be a fun year watching the Vikings, especially with Adrian Peterson having a shot at so many rushing records.

After Lamarcus Joyner’s cheap shot against Teddy Bridgewater in Sunday’s game, Jeff Fisher isn’t in a position to give anyone advice. Still, that’s what he did Monday in telling Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer to control his emotions immediately after a game, adding that Zimmer should “go back and look at the tape before you jump to conclusions.”

I’ve watched the replay a dozen times. There’s no question that Teddy Bridgewater started his slide at the Vikings 23-yard line. Similarly, there’s no question that Joyner was between the 27- and 28-yard line when Bridgewater started his slide. Further, there’s conclusive visual proof that Joyner didn’t do anything to avoid sliding into Bridgewater with his forearm out. Joyner’s forearm hit Bridgewater in the helmet.

The NFL rulebook states quite clearly that “a defender must pull up when a runner starts a feet-first slide. This doesn’t mean that all contact by a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it isn’t a foul unless the defender commits some other act, such as helmet-to-helmet contact or by driving his forearm or his shoulder in the head or neck area of the runner.”

There’s indisputable visual proof that Joyner hit Bridgewater’s head with his forearm extended. Notice that this rule isn’t just for quarterbacks. The rule speaks of hitting “the head or neck area of the runner.” Some of the apologists on ESPN and the NFL Network said that the play was a bang-bang play, meaning Joyner didn’t have the time to avoid the contact. That’s BS. Regardless, Joyner certainly had sufficient time to not slide. Further, Joyner had plenty of time to not lead with his forearm extended.

I know this, not because I played in the NFL but, because another Rams defender was caught in a similar situation earlier in the game. This defender didn’t have any problem avoiding planting his forearm into the player’s facemask.

Fisher’s teams have had a well-documented history of hitting players after the whistle has blown. Rather than offering Coach Zimmer advice, I’d argue that Fisher should spend a ton of time teaching his players how to be professionals.

During the Vikings-Rams game Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium on the U of M campus, Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner hit Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with a forearm shiver to Bridgewater’s head:

The NFL implemented a new rule several years ago in their attempt to protect quarterbacks. If a quarterback slides at the end of a run, the defensive player doesn’t have to touch him because the slide is considered proof that he’s giving up on the play in exchange for his safety. Clearly, that’s what Bridgewater did early in the fourth quarter. Joyner slid, too, but with his forearm out. After the game, Joyner said that he wasn’t trying to hurt Bridgewater.

I don’t totally believe that but I won’t accuse him of being a dirty player because, as far as I know, he doesn’t have a reputation of being a dirty player. I won’t extend that same benefit of the doubt to St. Louis Head Coach Jeff Fisher or St. Louis Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams because they both have reputations of being dirty coaches.

During the pregame show on NBC’s Sunday Night game of the week, commentator Rodney Harrison, in talking about the Bridgewater-Joyner play, said that he remembered a wide receiver on Fisher’s team going low and hitting Harrison’s knee. As a result of the play, Harrison wound up with a torn ACL, ending his season. Harrison said he looked up in pain to see “Jeff Fisher smiling” while Harrison was in pain.

That’s before talking about Gregg ‘Bountygate’ Williams. Ben Goessling, one of ESPN’s staff writers and former Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote briefly about Williams in his article:

Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has a history with the Vikings; he was the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator in 2010, when the Saints’ bounty system targeting quarterback Brett Favre became national news after New Orleans beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.

There’s no justification for what Joyner did. A defensive player that slides with his forearm out isn’t playing within the rules. If the quarterback is sliding, then the official’s whistle blows and the play is over. Period.

If Williams and Fisher aren’t teaching their defensive players this basic rule, then they’re being derelict in their responsibilities to play within the rules. If the NFL doesn’t discipline Fisher and Williams, they’re essentially telling them that not teaching players to play within the rules is optional. The NFL has tried hard over the last 18 months to clean the game up. If it doesn’t discipline these coaches, and to a lesser extent, Joyner, they will have shown that talk of player safety is just talk.

UPDATE: I DVR all Vikings games so I can study the players’ performances. I just watched the hit on Teddy Bridgewater that gave him his concussion. I have a different perspective on the play than I had yesterday. Thanks to the marks left in the Bank’s field turf, it’s clear that Bridgewater started his slide before the 25 yard line. Joyner didn’t hit Bridgewater until Bridgewater’s head was across the 25 yard line. Further, it’s clear that Joyner didn’t leave his feet until after Bridgewater had crossed the 25 yard line.

Upon further review, there’s no question in my mind. Joyner’s hit was intentional. The NFL should fine and/or suspend him. The NFL should investigate the Rams to see whether Williams has restarted the BountyGate program in St. Louis.

When the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer, they hired him because they were impressed with his ability to coach up defenses. Zimmer’s reputation looked a bit shaky early on because Detroit scored easy touchdowns on their first 2 drives of the game. While it’s impossible to predict the final score, it isn’t impossible to predict the fact that Zimmer’s in-game adjustments would change the complexion of the game.

Trailing 17-6 with 5:08 left in the first half, Zimmer unleashed his defense. Matthew Stafford, who played courageously, didn’t stand a chance once the Vikings dialed up the pressure. The Vikings finished with 7 sacks of Stafford, robbing him of the time to pick out his weapons like Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. Offensively, they kept giving the ball to Adrian Peterson but they also unleashed Teddy Bridgewater and Stefon Diggs. Saying that Diggs has been the hottest wide receiver in the game the last 3 weeks is understatement.

Against the Broncos’ outstanding secondary, Diggs caught 6 passes for 87 yards. Against a solid Chiefs secondary, Diggs caught 7 passes for 129 yards. Today, against Detroit, Diggs caught 6 passes for 108 yards, including this catch, which might be the best TD catch in the NFL this season:

These stats, especially the highlighted statistics, speak to the Vikings’ defensive dominance:

Honestly, I didn’t know that the Vikings outgained Detroit by 150 yards. I didn’t know that they had the ball 13 minutes more than Detroit. I was aware that the Vikings pressured Stafford mercilessly from the middle of the second quarter, sacking him a total of 7 times for the game.

At one point late in the third quarter or early fourth quarter, Fox NFL announcers Chris Meyers and Ronde Barber highlighted the fact that the Vikings had outgained Detroit something like 350 yards to 3 yards since the end of the first quarter.

The Vikings have some things they need to fix during the week. Fixing their defense isn’t their highest priority, though.