Keenum has by no means appeared in a postseason sport, although he has stood on the sideline for one, as a member of the Texans’ follow squad in 2012, which he affectionately calls his redshirt yr. Even if he believed in any other case, the next four seasons foretold little promise that Keenum was able to shepherding a crew to a No. 2 seed and a real likelihood of reaching the Super Bowl in its residence stadium, of turning into a purpose Minnesota received and never why it didn’t lose.
But right here he’s, complemented by the N.F.L.’s greatest scoring protection and a solid of dynamic receiving choices, and so are the Vikings.
“I’m going to play like I understand how to play,” stated Keenum, whom Minnesota signed to a one-year, $2 million contract for this season. “I don’t need to be anyone however myself. Not extra conservative or much less conservative. Either method, I’m going to be me. That’s all I’ve to be.”
The eight groups on this spherical may very well be divided into distinct teams based mostly on their quarterbacks: these with playoff expertise, who simply occur to be stars, and people with out it, who simply occur to not be. Keenum falls into the latter class, however on efficiency alone he warrants inclusion within the former. His emergence gives an tutorial second for all these groups that would not have a quarterback the caliber of Brady or Drew Brees or Roethlisberger.
A stigma is hooked up to the time period sport supervisor, usually utilized to quarterbacks requested to execute fundamental duties spectacularly — make sensible throws, suppose rapidly, don’t flip the ball over — but it surely shouldn’t be. Clutch throws or surgical precision or sharp decision-making may distinguish one of the best quarterbacks, however by excelling in these areas with regularity they’re additionally, in impact, managing video games.
Keenum this season has embodied a extra developed model of the time period, minimizing dangers whereas nonetheless throwing downfield, thriving in an offense that the coordinator Pat Shurmur tailored to his smaller stature (6 ft 1 inch) and his strengths by shifting the pocket and incorporating routes that develop rapidly.
The Vikings didn’t have a single giveaway within the purple zone all season, based on the info service Sportradar, and solely three different quarterbacks dedicated as few as eight turnovers whereas beginning as many as 14 video games: Brees, Alex Smith and Tyrod Taylor.
Doing what the Vikings have requested, and anticipated, Keenum stabilized a chaotic quarterback state of affairs. Amid an ideal union of scheme, coordinator and alternative, he has piloted an offense that not solely possessed the ball greater than each crew besides Philadelphia, but additionally completed these lengthy drives with factors, the 10th most within the N.F.L.
“We know that he’s going to get us in the fitting performs,” receiver Adam Thielen stated, “and we all know he’s going to search out the fitting man.”
Those two tasks — making applicable checks on the line of scrimmage and connecting with open receivers — are paramount, and Keenum’s proficiency in these areas has helped land him amongst particular firm.
Since the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger in 1970, solely 12 occasions has a quarterback, as Keenum did, received a minimum of 11 video games whereas throwing for greater than three,500 yards with a minimum of 22 touchdowns and 7 or fewer interceptions, per Pro Football Reference. Rodgers and Brady have achieved so thrice every, and the others are a Hall of Famer (Brett Favre), a league M.V.P. (Matt Ryan), a longtime starter (Derek Carr) and two second-year studs (Jared Goff and Dak Prescott).
As he usually is, Keenum is the outlier. Of the 4 much less completed starters who play this weekend, solely Keenum, the lone undrafted participant amongst Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota, wasn’t pegged as a future starter. Two seasons in the past, Keenum really backed up Foles on the Rams.
Asked in regards to the significance of postseason expertise, Zimmer stated that he wish to have a Hall of Fame quarterback however that he didn’t suppose it mattered on sport day. That is exactly how you’ll suppose the coach whose starter had by no means performed within the playoffs would reply. Keenum lacks the fairness stockpiled by Brees, top-of-the-line quarterbacks of this or any technology; it’s one purpose Zimmer shunned anointing him all these occasions.
The former Giants quarterback Phil Simms articulated the distinction by citing an intangible issue, omitting Keenum from the cluster of quarterbacks he calls vampires as a result of, he stated, groups should drive a stake via their hearts to beat them.
“If you inform me Tom Brady or Drew Brees will get the soccer on the finish of the sport and so they get 4 downs to attempt to rating, I’m betting on these quarterbacks,” Simms, an analyst for the CBS pregame present “The NFL Today,” stated in a phone interview. “I can not say the identical in regards to the different ones.”
In equity, Keenum has had few alternatives to direct game-winning drives, a perform of the offense’s capacity to seize leads and the protection’s talent at preserving them, although he doesn’t essentially need to show that he can. The Vikings simply want Keenum to play properly on Sunday.
If he does, if he makes few errors and good throws and audibles to the fitting performs, they are going to enter a well-known realm. They will get to play once more subsequent week.