When Minnesota’s offense huddled for the first time that mid-September afternoon in Pittsburgh [url=http://www.authenticswashingtonredskins.com/cheap-geron-christian-jersey]Geron Christian Color Rush Jersey[/url] , Case Keenum’s energy and confidence quickly filled the circle.

 

The Vikings were forced to turn to their backup quarterback to start the second game of the season after Sam Bradford’s knee acted up, an ominous development that can doom a team to an autumn of disenchantment and playing for draft pick position.

Despite the decisive defeat against the Steelers that day, though, there was a certain assurance Keenum gave his teammates that suggested they’d be all right.

”He’s a guy you want to play for,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said.

Four months later, the Vikings and Keenum are still playing. They’re two wins away from reaching the Super Bowl.

”It’s been a blast, man. It’s been incredible. I’m sure one of these days I’ll be able to look back and really appreciate it, but there’s so much to enjoy right now,” Keenum said. ”Not really putting too much into perspective. Not really looking too much at the big picture. I’m keeping my blinders on.”

With a modest 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame, Keenum was mostly ignored by major college programs despite leading Abilene Wylie High School to its first state championship in football-obsessed Texas. Houston made his only FBS scholarship offer, from then-head coach Art Briles, and by the time Keenum was finished with the Cougars he was the NCAA’s all-time leading passer with 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns. Yet he still went undrafted in 2012, needing the Houston Texans practice squad to get his professional career off the ground.

Keenum started 10 games over the next two years before being traded to the Rams in 2015, but they made Jared Goff the first pick in the 2016 draft so there was no future for Keenum there beyond being a veteran mentor.

Even Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was among those who typecast Keenum as a just-in-case second-stringer. Zimmer acknowledged recently he didn’t gain full confidence in Keenum until the 11th or 12th game of the season and, when Teddy Bridgewater was cleared to play in mid-November, Zimmer never declared Keenum the starter for more than a week at a time.

”He just wanted a chance,” his father, Steve Keenum, said this week in a phone interview. ”He’s got to have the knack. It’s just a God-given, innate thing that he’s maximized by working hard.”

As the oldest of his three children, Case made clear at an early age to Steve that he had the makeup to be an NFL quarterback even if there was no way to predict how the skill set would unfold.

”He was competitive in everything. It could be a board game. It could be playing darts. It could be playing cards. It didn’t matter. But if it had a ball, he wanted to do it,” said Steve [url=http://www.authenticswashingtonredskins.com/cheap-troy-apke-jersey]Troy Apke Color Rush Jersey[/url] , who was a high school and college coach around Texas for 24 years, including 10 seasons as the head coach at his alma mater McMurry University.

Good coaching, starting with dad’s tips in the family backyards, was another success factor.

When Briles left for Baylor, Kevin Sumlin arrived at Houston for Keenum’s sophomore year. Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After he departed, Kliff Kingsbury, currently the head coach at Texas Tech, took charge of the quarterbacks.

”They had some speed, and the next thing you know they were throwing the ball all over the field,” said Steve, who attended all 57 of Case’s games with the Cougars and has been to each game he’s played for the Vikings. ”They had some really talented kids. People talked about him being a system guy, with short passes and a run after the catch, but they didn’t see him play.”

Steve is now an area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization that Case has long been active in as well.

”He’s come to the realization like a lot of people in big situations that there are things that are really too big to do by yourself, and in order to stay grounded you’ve got to find somebody or something that you believe strongly in,” Steve said. ”I think his faith has been that for him.”

Though Keenum had prior NFL experience, including nine starts for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, he was signed by the Vikings as a one-year stopgap to be the guy in the ball cap providing sideline support and give Bridgewater ample time to recover from his colossal knee injury. Bradford had just produced an injury-free career-best performance in 2016, after all, so the Vikings were banking on him.

Over the last four months, though, they’ve been cashing in on Keenum, a dividend that has paid out handsomely for both parties.

”We’ve got a great group of guys here [url=http://www.authenticsdallascowboys.com/cheap-michael-gallup-jersey]Michael Gallup Color Rush Jersey[/url] ,” he said, ”and I think we’re all excited to be extending our season.”

With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur deftly adapting the team’s scheme to use Keenum’s mobility to better advantage and a sleeker offensive line mostly protecting him well, the Vikings have leaped up the league rankings in every significant statistical category. Among them: 28th to ninth in scoring touchdowns on possessions after passing the 20-yard line, and 19th to third in third-down conversions.

Keenum will start his first playoff game Sunday against New Orleans, with a raucous home crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium ready to cheer the next step toward the franchise’s elusive first championship.

”Our fans are awesome,” Keenum said. ”All my friends and family who have come up from T

The Philadelphia Phillies have stayed near the top of the National League standings halfway through the season thanks in large part to their strong play at Citizens Bank Park.

They’ll close out their first-half home slate this week with two games against the Baltimore Orioles. Right-handers Zach Eflin and Alex Cobb will face off Tuesday night.

The Phillies enter the series at 45-37 and are 28-16 at home. The team had an off-day Monday after taking three of four against the Washington Nationals, and the Phillies won Sunday in 13 innings with a walk-off homer from catcher Andrew Knapp.

“A win like that, especially against Washington, is huge for our season right now,” Knapp told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “It shows we’re here to stay. A lot of games left and we’ve got to keep playing well, but we’re up there with a lot of those teams.”

The Phillies have won 13 of their last 20 games and are firmly in second place in the National League East less than two weeks before the All-Star break. They’ll try to pad their win total against the Orioles (24-59), who have the worst record in baseball.

Eflin (6-2, 3.02 ERA) will be making his first start of July after a stellar month of June for the Phillies. The 24-year-old went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA and 0.978 WHIP in five starts last month.

Eflin had one of the most impressive starts of his three-year major league career in his last outing. He threw seven scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, giving up only four hits while striking out six batters.

“Eflin was just outstanding,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told reporters about Eflin after his last start. “…He certainly wasn’t rattled by anything. When he had base runners on, it’s almost like he got calmer. He did a really good job of controlling the running game and controlling his fastball. His working north-south better than he has before. And in June, he was dominant the whole month against some of baseball’s best teams.”

Eflin has never faced Baltimore in 32 career starts. Cobb (2-9, 6.75) will also be making his first appearance against the Phillies in his seven-year major league career.

The Orioles are 3-11 in Cobb’s 14 starts in 2018, including a loss to the Seattle Mariners last Wednesday. Cobb allowed five runs on eight hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings in that start. It was the seventh time this season he’s surrendered at least five earned runs in a game.

“The inconsistency on my end, really never dealt with it before,” Cobb told mlb.com after the game. “But it’s really unacceptable to keep going out there and having a good game, and a game where you don’t give much of an opportunity for your team to win.”

The Phillies are 1-0 against the Orioles this season. They won a game in Baltimore on May 16 and will play another game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 12 to make up a rained-out contest.

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