MINNEAPOLIS – New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams made the biggest play of his young NFL career when he intercepted Case Keenum in the fourth quarter of Sunday's divisional playoff game.
No one will remember it.
The moment that will define his day – and his rookie year – came on the final play of the game.
As Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs leaped high to catch a pass from Case Keenum on the right sideline, Williams dove at Diggs' legs in an attempt to bring the receiver down. Instead, he whiffed, and his dive took teammate Ken Crawley out as well.
That left Diggs free to regain his balance, with no Saints defender downfield to catch him as he sprinted to the end zone for the Vikings' game-winning touchdown.
"It was my play to make," Williams told reporters in the visitors' locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium after the game. "The ball was in the air, I didn't go attack it."
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The missed tackle brought a sudden end to a game the Saints believed they had won with 25 seconds remaining, when kicker Wil Lutz' 43-yard field goal gave New Orleans a 24-23 lead. The loss also marked a disappointing end to what had been such promising season for a revamped Saints team.
"It will sting a bit, especially as this season goes on over the next couple of weeks, feeling like it could be us, it should be us," quarterback Drew Brees said.
New Orleans lost here in Minneapolis in Week 1, but the Saints had changed so much in the 16 games since, reeling off eight consecutive wins after an 0-2 start to win the NFC South championship. They did it in large part to a strong rookie class, of which Williams was a key part.
Led by running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marcus Lattimore, who are both favorites to win the NFL's offensive and defensive rookie of the year awards, respectively, the group gives the Saints reason for optimism. But the Saints face some big questions in the coming months, starting with Brees, who turns 39 on Monday and is set to become a free agent.
While he has repeatedly said he wants to remain with the Saints, Brees and the team will have to figure out whether they can strike the right deal to make that happen or if the future Hall of Famer might finish his career elsewhere.
"I'm more towards the end of my career than I am the beginning, and I know that," Brees said. "The season ends and I think this one will sting, but reflecting on the season itself and what we were able to accomplish, and some of the memories made and relationships that were built and just the way this thing came together, it really leaves me excited for the future for Saints football, especially when I think of this window over the next few years."
The Saints went through an offensive evolution this year, with the balance tilted more toward running backs Kamara and Mark Ingram. Brees threw two interceptions in the divisional round loss to the Vikings but in the second half proved why he still is among the NFL's most valuable quarterbacks, driving the Saints to what could have been the game-winning field goal in less than a minute.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.