The Minnesota Vikings are on to the NFC Championship after an incredible, last-second victory over the New Orleans Saints.
With less than 10 seconds left in the game, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum heaved a ball to Stefon Diggs in traffic and he was inexplicably able to break free for a 61-yard walk off touchdown. But the miracle finish was aided by a whiff from Saints safety Marcus Williams that left Diggs with nothing but green grass in front of him.
The question for most watching was just “What in the world was Williams thinking?”
The play began with 10 seconds left and the Vikings had no timeouts left, so a tackle in bounds would’ve ended it.
Instead he missed Diggs entirely and Twitter reacted:
I feel bad for that dude, he just over thought that— KJ (@KJ_WRIGHT34) January 15, 2018
Wow #43 gonna need that Brandon Bostic witness protection program. Please please No he is just a rookie #NOvsMIN— Datone Jones (@IAM_Dat_One) January 15, 2018
He closed his eyes like a sucka— Marcus Peters (@marcuspeters) January 15, 2018
Literally Williams could have just stood behind Diggs, let him catch the ball and then just hold up him until the rest of his buddies got there. I just can’t believe I witnessed that ending.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 15, 2018
After the game, FOX’s Jimmy Johnson gave an explanation for why Williams may have reacted the way he did. One of the worst case scenarios for New Orleans would’ve been a pass interference call to stop the clock and give the Vikings a chance at a game-winning field goal try.
New Orleans had already picked up four pass interference penalties, including one on Williams earlier in the game, so the officials weren’t giving the secondary much leeway.
So Williams thinking that either — A) The pass was sailing out of bounds, or B) Diggs’ legs were a safer route to make the tackle and avoid a penalty — opted to go low instead.
Former Saints safety Steve Gleason thought the same after the watching the play.
Marcus Williams had a spectacular rookie season, and could have a stellar career. He was trying to make the right decision and not interfere. As a competitor, I'm sure he's crushed. I invite Nola to be encouraging and supportive as well as we move on.— Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) January 15, 2018
It didn’t work out at all and it’s hard not to feel bad for the rookie safety.
#saints Rookie safety Marcus Williams feel to his knees on his way to locker room after his missed tackle cost saints the game and then inside the locker cried with his head in his hands.— Alex Flanagan (@Alex_Flanagan) January 15, 2018
“I’m gonna take it upon myself to do all that I can to never let that happen again,” Williams told reporters after the game, via ESPN. “And, I mean, if it happens again, then I shouldn’t be playing. But I’m gonna take it upon myself to do all that I can to make sure nothing like this happens again to me.”
A day later, he tweeted with resolve:
I appreciate my friends, real fans, family, and team for everything they have done for me this season all of the support is highly appreciated!No the season didn’t end as planned but one thing for sure I won’t let one play define the type of MAN or PLAYER that I am or will be!— Marcus Williams (@Babymagik32) January 15, 2018
His teammates also came to his defense after the game.
“He’s going to have so many opportunities, and he’s going to make so many great plays in the future,” Saints linebacker Manti Te’o said, via The Times-Picayune. “Everybody makes mistakes, and it wasn’t even him, you know what I mean? It wasn’t just him. He didn’t lose that game.
“He’s a young player, and he has a bright future ahead of him. He’s going to make more great plays than mistakes, and I’m just excited for the kid. He’s going to come back, and he’s going to get better.”
Fellow rookie Marshon Lattimore tweeted words of support as well:
Yea it may hurt but one thing I know for sure my dawg play his heart out every game for the team man. He give 100% effort no matter if it's practice or the game. Can't deny his passion for the game! He gained a brother for sure. We'll be back! @babymagik32 pic.twitter.com/EPNOXwpI8V— Marshon Lattimore (@shonrp2) January 15, 2018
Ultimately, there are many other reasons beyond Williams’ missed tackle that also contributed to the loss. The Saints fell into a 17-0 hole early and didn’t score any points until the final minutes of the third quarter. But in the biggest moment of the game, one of the team’s best rookies whiffed and that will stay with him all offseason.