There were 25 seconds left in the second quarter Sunday when Case Keenum’s short pass for Stefon Diggs fell incomplete. Keenum then hit on back-to-back throws to Michael Floyd and Adam Thielen before the half came to an end with the Vikings holding a one-point lead.
Keenum’s incompletion to Diggs was long forgotten 30 minutes later as the Vikings departed Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with a 14-9 victory, but the misfire was notable for one reason.
It was the last time the Vikings quarterback did not complete a pass in the game. He was 13-of-13 for 117 yards with a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph in the second half, meaning Keenum’s last 15 passes did not touch the ground.
A few months back this might have been considered a remarkable achievement for a guy who had spent much of his first four seasons as a backup, but Keenum’s success is no longer a surprise.
He finished 25-of-30 for 227 yards with two touchdowns in leading the Vikings to their eighth consecutive victory.
“This is a great defense,” Keenum said of the Falcons. “We knew it coming in but still, playing against them, it’s kind of like, ‘Woe, these guys are good.’ They’re fast and they’ve got a great rush. They get off the ball. So we had our work cut out for us, and I think the offensive line knew that coming in and they did a great job.”
Keenum was sacked twice but, as he’s done so many times this season, he was able to avoid being brought down at other times because of his ability to move around and avoid pressure. It was fitting that former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who lives in Georgia, was at the game. Tarkenton was the first NFL quarterback to make scrambling an art and Keenum seems to have some of the same abilities that made Francis so effective.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked after Sunday’s game about some of the things that have surprised him about Keenum, who was signed to be the Vikings backup but took over after Sam Bradford aggravated a knee injury in Week 1 and has started all but one game since.
“The biggest thing is Case is making the plays he needs to make and he’s not trying to overdue things,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes, maybe in the Washington game, he tried to make some plays that he really shouldn’t have been trying to make. He’s staying within himself. I didn’t probably know that he was as good of movement guy in the pocket as he is because he’s done a great job with that this year.”
Keenum threw two picks in the Vikings’ victory at Washington on Nov. 12, but the veteran has not thrown an interception in 98 attempts over three games since.
While Zimmer won’t officially declare Keenum as his starter for the rest of the season, leading to speculation that the now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater might get an opportunity, there is little chance Zimmer is going to lift Keenum. There are two scenarios under which Bridgewater could end up getting on the field: 1) Keenum gets injured; or 2) the Vikings’ playoff position is locked up going into Week 17 and Bridgewater plays against Chicago.
Nonetheless, Zimmer was asked Sunday if Keenum will be the starter next week in Carolina. “Yeah,” Zimmer said.
It’s unclear if Keenum, or anyone with the Vikings, even cares at this point about how much clarity Zimmer provides on this topic. The Vikings are 10-2, in complete control of the NFC North and Keenum is 8-2 as the team’s starter.
The latest victory was perhaps Minnesota’s most impressive of the season and featured a perfect second half from Keenum. Given the way things are going for Keenum and the Vikings this season that success came as a surprise to few.