It’s not anxiety that’s inside Case Keenum. It’s anticipation.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback says he can imagine what his first playoff start will be like on Sunday and expects the emotions to be swirling. But right now, all he can do is picture the moment in his mind. Unlike the quarterback he’ll be going toe-to-toe with for a trip to the NFC Championship Game, Keenum hasn’t been here before.
Playoff experience is the headliner in this weekend’s divisional round. All four games feature a quarterback with a lot of experience against one making his first or second career postseason start. In fact, Tom Brady has more Super Bowl rings (5) than Keenum, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota have playoff starts combined, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Whether Drew Brees‘ 12 playoff games and nearly 4,000 career passing yards in the postseason give him an advantage when the Vikings host the Saints will be determined Sunday afternoon. Keenum has relied on a handful of his coaches — Mike Zimmer, Pat Shurmur, Kevin Stefanski — with years of playoff experience between them for advice and even received a text from Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner this week.
The key to how he’s approaching his preparation? He’s not making the moment bigger than it is.
“For us, it’s just remember what got us here,” Keenum said. “It’s the same game we’ve been playing the last time I checked and same field, same stadium, same amount of time.”
Keenum helped lead the Vikings to this point with an 11-3 record as a starter and the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL (67.6) behind Brees. Back in 2012, Keenum was part of the Texans playoff team as a member of the practice squad. While he was limited to the sideline during that postseason, it was invaluable experience to see how players operated in the moment.
“That was my redshirt year — I call it — in the NFL,” he said. “To be a part of a playoff run like that and to see the preparation that goes into it and to see just how quickly the game goes — I mean it goes so fast and everything’s so amplified — I think it was good experience for me.”
Keenum doesn’t deny he’ll have butterflies on Sunday, but that’s a feeling he gets every week ahead of every start. After five seasons in the NFL as a journeyman quarterback, Keenum finally has his chance to prove himself on one of the biggest stages in the sport. To do that, he doesn’t have to be “anybody but myself.”
That’s what got him here in the first place.
“I call it not a scared nervous, but an excited nervous,” he said. “I’m excited because I’m prepared and I know what I’m going to do. I know I’m going to play. But man, you get the adrenaline going, you’re waiting in that tunnel, you hear US Bank Stadium going crazy out there. I mean, if you’re not feeling something at that point, I tell people you might be an adrenaline junkie and need to go jump out of planes or bungee or do other stuff like that because it’s an exciting moment and it’s really cool.”