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Former Terp Stefon Diggs plays hero in Vikings' miracle playoff win

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Former Terp Stefon Diggs plays hero in Vikings' miracle playoff win

MINNEAPOLIS -- There wasn't much left for Case Keenum to do but to fling the ball deep and hope for a miracle.

Miracle answered.

Keenum completed a last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game's final play, and Stefon Diggs slithered away for a 61-yard touchdown to give Minnesota a 29-24 victory over New Orleans and send the Vikings to the NFC championship game, with one more win needed to become a first-time Super Bowl host.

Drew Brees had driven the Saints in position for Wil Lutz's go-ahead 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining, punctuating a steely rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.

The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when Keenum dropped back with 10 seconds to go from his 39 and threw high into a crowd. Diggs jumped in front of Marcus Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath Diggs during an ill-fated attempt at a tackle.

Diggs held his ground, kept his feet in bounds and raced untouched into the end zone as the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted.

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"I'm just thankful," Diggs said. "They count us out all the time. Nobody thinking we can do it. This game was over. I don't stop playing till the clock hit zero. That's it."

This wasn't quite Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception for Pittsburgh in the 1972 playoffs, but these Vikings are on some kind of special path. They finished 13-3 during the regular season, giving the career backup Keenum the keys to the offense after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury after the opener.

The Vikings will play at Philadelphia next weekend, after Jacksonville takes on New England for the AFC title. The Super Bowl is in Minnesota two weeks later.

"A heck of a game, wasn't it?" coach Mike Zimmer said. "And the good guys won."

Now the Vikings have spun an unprecedented scenario in NFL history. Next weekend, instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they're in a win-and-go-home situation with the Super Bowl set for Feb. 4 under the reverberating translucent roof of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Though only defensive end Brian Robison remains from the 2009 team that lost in overtime of the NFC championship game at New Orleans, the Vikings exacted some revenge on Brees and the Saints, at least for their long-frustrated fans.

They put them through quite the emotional finish to complete it.

Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 of the second half. The first score came after a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The second was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Williams after an off-balance throw by Keenum, his one costly moment of either inexperience or recklessness.

When George Johnson blocked Ryan Quigley's punt, the Saints took over at the Vikings 40. Four plays later, rookie Alvin Kamara, whose breakout was a major factor in the team's NFC South title and breakthrough from three straight 7-9 finishes, caught a 14-yard pass from Brees for a 21-20 lead with 3:01 left.

Forbath's 53-yard field goal, his third make of the evening against his former team, gave the Vikings their lead back with 1:29 left. That was more than enough time for Brees, the sure-bet Hall of Famer with a Super Bowl ring and all kinds of records.

But after Brees got Lutz in position, there were just enough seconds remaining for Keenum -- the undrafted and undersized all-time leading passer in NCAA history at Houston whose first career playoff start ended in spectacular fashion. He finished with 318 yards, going 25 for 40, with Diggs catching 137 yards on six catches.

"This will take a while to get over," said Payton, who fell to 1-5 on the road in playoff games.

Brees saw his 13th career postseason game end in a crushing final moment, his 25-for-40 performance for 294 yards tainted a bit by two interceptions before halftime. One came on a leaping grab by safety Andrew Sendejo, the other off a tip by Everson Griffen that landed in Anthony Barr's arms at the Minnesota 10-yard line midway through the third quarter.

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Investigation finds Maryland culpable in death of player

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USA Today

Investigation finds Maryland culpable in death of player

TOWSON, Md. -- An independent investigation into the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair has determined that trainers on the scene did not follow proper procedures after he collapsed on the field.

McNair was hospitalized on May 29 after a team workout and died June 13. The family attorney said the cause of death was heatstroke.

Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer and sports medicine consultant who led the investigation launched by the school following McNair's death, said Friday "there was a failure to identify symptoms and aggressively treat it."

Maryland athletic director Damon Evans acknowledged last month that "mistakes were made" by the training staff in the treatment of McNair, a 19-year-old sophomore offensive lineman. University President Wallace Loh visited McNair's parents to offer a personal apology for how the situation was handled.

The report released Friday stated that there appeared to be a failure to recognize the severity of the incident and that when the severity was identified, inadequate cooling devices were used in place of cold water immersion or cold whirlpools.

Terrapins head coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave while an unrelated external investigation into the culture of the football program is being conducted.

According to the report, Durkin was on the scene when McNair collapsed. His role in the events that followed was not made clear.

Much of Walters' report focused on recommendations that would enable a tragedy like this from happening again.

In a release issued before the news conference began, the university wrote: "We made immediate changes following Jordan's death and have continued to make enhancements informed by the preliminary observations of the external review we received this summer."

The list of changes already implemented, according to the school, include an increase in doctors and training at practices and games; additional on-site cooling stations to football training camp and practices consisting of portable spray misters, recovery drinks and cooling towels; and increasing the number and length of recovery breaks.

Officials say the changes were made after receiving preliminary observations of Walker's findings.

Maryland athletic director Damon Evans acknowledged last month that "mistakes were made" by the training staff in the treatment of McNair, a 19-year-old sophomore offensive lineman.

Loh was very candid last month when talking about the school's role in McNair's death.

"They entrusted their son to us, and he did not return home," Loh said of McNair's parents. "The University accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that were made on that fateful day. ... They misdiagnosed the situation."

On that day, the law firm of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which represents the McNair family, wrote in a statement: "While Marty and Tonya will never get another day with Jordan, Dr. Loh's words were meaningful to them and give them some comfort that he will put the University on the path to change the culture of the program so that no Terrapin family will have to endure the heartache and grief that they feel."

In the wake of McNair's death, an ESPN story reported that the coaching staff engaged in physical and mental abuse of the players.

Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11. Strength and conditioning coach Rick Court resigned two days later, and head trainer Wes Robinson, along with Steve Nordwall, an assistant athletic director for training, remain on administrative leave.

Loh distinguished between training staff and coaching staff when he spoke about mistakes that led to McNair's death, but added the reports of "bullying behavior" by football coaches "are totally inconsistent with what we stand for, and our values."

The Walters review was one of two separate ongoing investigations being overseen by the Board of Regents. In addition, an eight-member commission has been appointed to look into the culture of the football program.

That investigation is ongoing.

"The Board of Regents is committed to uncovering all the discoverable facts about Jordan McNair's tragic death, and separately, the culture of the football program," Board of Regents Chair James Brady said.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been serving as interim coach. Maryland is 2-1 heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener against Minnesota at home.

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Vernon Davis writes a letter to the Maryland Terrapins football team in the Players' Tribune

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USA Today Sports Images

Vernon Davis writes a letter to the Maryland Terrapins football team in the Players' Tribune

The 2018 Maryland football team was faced with a hardship that no team ever dreams of going through. Having to overcome the pain of losing their teammate Jordan McNair, then taking the field in competition is an obstacle that no one understands until they face it themselves.

And former Maryland Terrapin Vernon Davis wants the team to know how proud he is of them.

Davis, a current tight end for the Washington Redskins, took to the Players' Tribune to write to the Maryland football team.

He called the touching letter, 'For Jordan'.

In the piece he wrote: 

Ever since the final whistle of that truly incredible Week 1 victory over Texas, I’ve found myself thinking about you guys a lot — about what you all must be going through in dealing with the loss of your teammate Jordan McNair just three months ago, and how difficult everything must be. Eventually, over the past few weeks, I got to the point where I decided that I wanted to sit down and write something to the team.

There are a bunch of things I want to say here. But the most important one, by far, is just to let you all know that….

I couldn’t be more proud of you guys.

Davis continued, talking about their emotional victory over the Texas Longhorns

Losing a teammate, a brother, the way that the Maryland football family lost Jordan this past summer was an unspeakably sad tragedy. I can only imagine the level of grief and heartache that each and every one of you has experienced. And after going through what you have, no one would’ve faulted you if you didn’t win a single game this year — at least not those of us who understand grief, and pain, and loss.

I mean, you could’ve lost 100 to nothing in that opening game at FedEx Field against the Longhorns on September 1 and … we would’ve understood.

But, well, that’s not what happened.

Instead, on that afternoon, even as you continued to hurt and mourn, you found in your sport the opportunity to create a positive, life-affirming moment.

At the same time, you also showed me, once again, just how special this university is to me. And why, after all these years, I still love Maryland with all my heart.

Playing three years with Maryland, Davis caught nine touchdowns with 1,371 yards. Because of his instant impact and averaging 16.5 yards per catch, he decided to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL. In 2006, he was drafted No. 6 overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

He concluded: 

...you’ve all already shown anyone paying attention the strength and heart and will of this team. So I have no doubt that you’re going to bounce back and finish the season strong. And as you’re going about that journey, you all — each and every one of you — need to know that it’s not just me who is proud of you.

You guys are inspiring people worldwide — Terp alums, for sure, but also just people who know what you’re going through and realize the fortitude that it takes to keep moving forward in the face of it all.

We see you. We’re proud of you. And … we believe in you.

So just keep doing the best you can. Stay together. Play the game with love. And always, no matter what, keep Jordan in your heart.

Because I’m pretty sure he’s proud of you, too.

Once a Terp, always a Terp,

Vernon

To read the 'For Jordan' letter in its entirety on the Players' Tribune, click here.

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