ASHBURN — The play has come to define Case Keenum’s career.
Two seasons ago, the quarterback launched a last-ditch throw to receiver Stefon Diggs, who caught the prayer and scored as time expired to advance the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. “The Minneapolis Miracle,” it was called. Keenum even got a book deal out of it: “Playing for More: Beyond What You Can See.” The NFL ranks the Keenum-to-Diggs stunner as the ninth greatest play in league history.
But standing at a lectern in Ashburn on Tuesday, Keenum was in no mood to reminisce.
Just two days before he faces his former team for the first time since leaving in free agency after the 2017 season, he was focused on more current concerns. The 31-year-old is on a short week, trying to overcome two rough outings in a row.
“I’ve played long enough to where I feel like if I keep going like I’m going, I might play against my old team every week,” said Keenum, who was acquired from Denver in the offseason.
The Redskins are Keenum’s fifth team in six years, and in Washington, so far, he’s shown why. After a strong start to the season, Keenum has faded. Even in Sunday’s rain-soaked affair against the San Francisco 49ers — in which he threw just 12 times — there were missed opportunities.
Keenum has battled through foot and shoulder injuries, but said he’s doing “well” enough to play in Minnesota.
Keenum hasn’t been able to recreate the success he had with the Vikings. That year, he started out as the team’s backup but took over when Sam Bradford went down with an injury after just one game. Keenum finished the season with a career-high 22 touchdowns and led the Vikings into the playoffs.
Minnesota, though, chose to let Keenum walk at the end of the year — signing former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal.
“Yeah it was really hard,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call. “Case did an awful lot for us here. Case was a terrific teammate, he had an outstanding year.
With Cousins at the controls in Minnesota, results have been mixed, but the Vikings (5-2) are suddenly on a roll. After last season’s disappointing 8-7-1, Cousins looks more comfortable in a redesigned scheme tailored to his strengths. Cousins has played particularly well the last three weeks — completing 75% of his passes while throwing for 976 yards in an attack that relies heavily on play action.
Keenum doesn’t dwell on being passed over by the Vikings — the NFL, after all, is a business he said. He also downplays the significance of facing the Vikings, noting he has played against his former teams before.
Running back Adrian Peterson doesn’t buy it, though.
“I’m sure there’s something there,” said Peterson, who spent 10 years in Minnesota. “Of course, after the season he had … I’m sure he feels some type of way about that. We’re all human. But who wouldn’t? I’m sure he wants to stick it to them, just like I want to stick it to ’em, and just like Kirk Cousins wants to stick it to us.”
For now, the Redskins sound committed to sticking with Keenum. Despite rookie Dwayne Haskins waiting to make his first start, interim coach Bill Callahan expressed a vote of confidence in Keenum after the 49ers loss.
When Keenum steps on the field in Minnesota, he’ll likely receive a warm welcome. For Vikings fans, it would be hard not to think of the positive memories Keenum produced, especially his throw to Diggs.
“I hope he doesn’t have any miracles on Thursday,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph told reporters in Minnesota. “That’s for sure. That would not be good if Case is on the other end of a miracle on Thursday.
“I love Case, appreciate everything he did. I hope that Minnesota, Minneapolis was his last miracle in U.S. Bank Stadium.’’
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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