A very long 287 days will pass before New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams takes the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the first time since one of the most discussed missed tackles in NFL playoff history.
Williams was on the wrong end of the Minneapolis Miracle on Jan. 14. He whiffed badly on a tackle against Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, who turned the shocking fortune into to a 27-yard touchdown reception on the final play of the NFC Divisional playoffs. The walk-off TD gave Minnesota a 29-24 victory and a berth in the NFC Championship Game.
Williams, a second-year safety, has played great zone defense since then, deflecting questions about his defensive miscue. Even so, Williams knows the storyline entering Sunday night’s regular-season rematch between the 5-1 Saints and the 4-2-1 Vikings will be his five seconds of infamy.
“It’s another game, it’s another game,” Williams said repeatedly to questions asking him to reflect on the playoff game.
His Saints’ teammates have his back.
“Listen last year, was last year,” said quarterback Drew Brees, who led a furious New Orleans comeback in the playoff game from a 17-0 deficit to a 24-23 lead with 25 seconds left. “We’re glad that we’re moving onto this year. This is not a revenge game. It’s a different season. These are new teams, even though there’s a lot of similar personnel. It’s a new season, new team, new mindset. It is a tough environment (and) a tough place to play. We understand we’re going to need our best game, our best execution to win.”
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said his team has not had much of a chance to reminisce about the wild finish, which was voted the NFL’s play of the year for the 2017 season.
“We do not talk about it too much honestly,” Zimmer said. “The media and people do, but we really do not. An hour later we were on to the next game. Our team doesn’t make a big deal about it.”
The Saints have won five consecutive games since an opening-season loss to Tampa Bay. Since opening the 2017 season 0-2, with one of those losses to the Vikings, the Saints have gone 17-5. So, New Orleans is 0-2 against the Vikings and 17-3 against everyone else in the last 14 months.
It’s not something Zimmer takes much delight in.
“I don’t like preparing for Brees for sure,” Zimmer said of drawing the Saints for the third time in two seasons. “They’re a really good football team. They’ve added some good players. So is it easier? There’s a bunch of other teams I’d rather prepare for than them.”
The Saints added cornerback depth with the acquisition of Eli Apple from the Giants on Monday in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh-round pick in 2020. Coach Sean Payton wasn’t sure how much Apple would play against the Vikings, in part because he is still healing from an ankle injury.
But the Saints could use all hands on deck to slow down receiver Adam Thielen, who last week became the fifth player in NFL history to record seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games.
“I’m just going to do whatever I can to make this a better ball team,” Apple said. “All about business now.”
The Vikings could get a defensive charge with the return of defensive end Everson Griffen, a pass-rush specialist, from a foot injury.
“It’s nice to see him back here with smile on his face,” Zimmer said. “Everson’s a really good player. I think he’ll add a little bit of spark to us because of his personality and the intensity he carries on the field and you can never have enough pass rushers.”
Minnesota remains short on running backs with Dalvin Cook nursing a hamstring injury likely to keep him out into mid-November.
—Field Level Media