MINNEAPOLIS — Marcus Williams faced the media, held his head high and took responsibility for a safety's worst nightmare on Sunday night, even as his team tried to take some of the burden off of his shoulders.
Williams, the free safety who turned in an impressive rookie season for an up-and-coming Saints secondary this year, was in coverage when Vikings quarterback Case Keenum sent Minnesota's last prayer down the sideline in search of Stefon Diggs.
Diggs leaped to make the catch, and as Williams arrived, he ducked his head and dove underneath Diggs, who shook off the contact, gathered himself, spun and raced away with the game-winning 61-yard touchdown in a shocking 29-24 Minnesota victory.
"It was just my play to make. The ball was in the air; I didn't go attack it," Williams said. "I've just got to be that guy, go up and get the ball. As the safety back there, you've got to be the eraser. That was my job. The last play of the game, you've got to go do it, and you've got to save the game."
Williams was crushed.
The rookie fell to his knees as he left the field, and he broke into tears after the game, gathering himself before meeting with reporters.
With 10 seconds left to play and a 24-23 lead, it seemed the New Orleans Saints had overcome a 17-point deficit to upset the Minnesota Vikings…
What he could have done had already started running through his mind.
"If the play happened differently, I would go attack the ball and make that play," Williams said.
With Minnesota facing a third-and-10 at its 39-yard line and 10 seconds left, New Orleans was trying to force Keenum to take something over the middle where the Saints could rally to the tackle and run out the clock.
"It's an outside zone," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We're protecting the sidelines. Anything inside, and you're in pretty good position, the game's over. He jumped and went for the tackle. The call was what we wanted in that situation, the right call."
Williams, who had already made a key interception on another Keenum deep ball down the sideline and broken up another, reached Diggs a split-second early, complicating the split-second decision.
A flag for pass interference could have given Minnesota the ball on the New Orleans' 34-yard line, allowing Kai Forbath a 51-yard attempt at the game-winning field goal.
But Williams still said he should have made a play on the ball.
"I feel like I was a little early, but at that point, I've just got to make the tackle when he comes down," Williams said. "It's just those little things that you see, and you've got to make sure you do all that you can to get him down, regardless of if there were 10 seconds left. I knew the situation. You've just got to make sure you make the play."
MINNEAPOLIS — The New Orleans Saints had it all, right there in their grasp.
His Saints teammates have already tried to begin taking the weight off of his shoulders. Fellow secondary members had their arms around Williams after the game. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan took responsibility for not putting more pressure on Keenum.
"It's not on one player," Payton said. "He's played well for us all year. It was a timing decision, obviously. He'd like to have that back, but he's been a good player for us all year."
Williams turned in a brilliant rookie season, and up until Diggs' miraculous catch, the rookie safety had the game's biggest defensive play, an interception that set up the second New Orleans touchdown in an incredible comeback.
The rookie finished the season with 71 tackles and four interceptions, providing the umbrella New Orleans never had when Jairus Byrd was in that position the past three years.
"He's got to keep his head up. I'm not going to say he's not feeling bad about the play or whatever, but we've got his back," rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. "Marcus is a special player. He can't let that one play, even as big as it was, you can't let that play turn you against him. That goes for the fans and our team."
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Williams now faces a difficult offseason, the pain of seeing the play over and over again on highlight reels, broken down ad nauseam, the only time in NFL history a game has ended on a walk-off touchdown.
But he vows to get over this play, and to make sure this never happens again.
"Just overcome it," Williams said. "You can't let it beat you down. I'm going to take it upon myself to do all I can to never let that happen again, and if it happens again, then I shouldn't be playing."
The rest of the Saints firmly believe Williams should always be on the field.