Big Blue United

The Vikings Have Made It Work With Case Keenum at QB—and Pat Shurmur Deserves the Credit

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During interviews for head-coaching jobs, one commonly asked question is for candidates to name a time when they faced adversity as a coach, and how they responded. Pat Shurmur, who interviewed with multiple NFL teams during the Vikings’ first-round playoff bye week, wouldn’t have needed to say much—the results are all over the film.

“You learn how to deal with adversity,” Shurmur said this week from the Vikings’ Winter Park practice facility. “If you have injuries, you don’t make them part of your daily conversation. Put the next guy in there and you go.”

Shurmur has had to do that, and then some. He took over as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator following Norv Turner’s resignation in November 2016; it was an injury-ravaged season in which Minnesota used eight different starting offensive line combinations. This year, Shurmer lost Sam Bradford, the starting quarterback for whom he’d designed an offense, in Week 2; and Dalvin Cook, the rookie running back averaging 4.8 yards per carry, in Week 4. But yet, the 13–3 Vikings enter the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 2 seed with a Case Keenum-led offense that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring.

If you’d read that sentence last season, or maybe even in September, you probably wouldn’t have believed it. Keenum began his NFL career on the practice squad; the next year, in 2013, he went 0–8 as a starter for the Texans. He kept the seat warm last season for No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff with the Rams, then signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Vikings this spring to help bolster their quarterback depth. But when Bradford was sidelined with his ailing left knee after the first game of the year, what happened next has been one of the best, and most unexpected, stories of this NFL season.

“We saw it behind the scenes,” Shurmur says, “but nobody outside the building would have predicted that Case would have been able to play winning football like he has.”

That’s not a knock against Keenum, but he is currently playing the best football of his career, at any level. He’s won 11 of 14 starts, more wins than in the rest of his NFL career combined. He’s completed 67.6% of his passes this year, second to only Drew Brees, and a full 13 percentage points higher than in his first season as a starter. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions, a near identical ratio to Brees, whose Saints the Vikings will face at home in the divisional round this Sunday.

“The maturation of Case, I think in large part due to Pat,” says Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen, “has been one of the most unique things I’ve seen in my 16 seasons calling games for this team.”

It’s a partnership that’s worked so well, there has been speculation it will continue on past this season in another NFL city, with Shurmur as a head coach and Keenum, a free agent this spring,

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