Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints’ Marcus Williams is determined not to let one ‘whiff’ define him

New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) runs against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.
New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) runs against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. AP

New Orleans Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams failed to do his job during those final fate-filled seconds Sunday but he’s tackled his mistake head-on in the aftermath of one of the most stunning postseason finishes in NFL history.

Yes, Williams lunged blindly and outright missed leaping Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs inside the Saints 35-yard line of their NFC divisional game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And yes, Diggs came down with the sideline pass from quarterback Case Keenum on third-and-10 from the Vikings 39 with 10 seconds remaining, turned into an open field after Williams upended teammate Ken Crawley and ran unimpeded into the end zone to steal a 29-24 victory as time expired.

Making a goat of Williams.

And a G.O.A.T. — “Greatest Of All Time” — of Diggs.

Diggs stumbled momentarily but stuck his left hand into the turf to keep his balance, and somehow, some might say miraculously, managed to stay inbounds to complete the heart-stopping 61-yard catch-and-run.

Williams remained seated on the turf, in front of the Minnesota bench, watching helplessly as Diggs shot the Vikings into Sunday’s NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

Days later, that final play by the Vikings called “Seven Heaven” still seems surreal as in “I can’t believe what I just saw.” And yet my thoughts return to Williams, a native of Corona, California, who was selected by the Saints in the second round of the 2017 draft after playing through his junior season at Utah.

He turned 21 on the eve of the regular season, even young by NFL standards. He probably doesn’t know the meaning of failure, and certainly has never been faced with the kind of media and fan scrutiny that he’s about to endure in the coming days, weeks, months and even years.

So far, he’s handled it extremely well, a picture of class. He acknowledged his mistake to reporters after the game unlike may current sports divas. He was humble, sincere and vowed to atone for his mistake.

Suffice to say, no one hurts more than him. No one feels his pain.

Williams also reached out on social media, tweeting: “I appreciate my friends, real fans, family, and team for everything they have done for me this season. All of the support is highly appreciated. No, the season didn’t end as planned but one thing for sure, I won’t let one play define the type of MAN or PLAYER that I am or will be.’’

I can’t speak to the kind of man he is. But he’s a pretty good pro right now and figures to be a fixture in the Saints secondary for years to come. He started 15 games this season, recorded 59 tackles and had four INTs, five if you count the one Sunday against the Vikings that helped the Saints climb out of a 17-0 halftime hole.

Williams made a mistake on the football field, a huge mistake. And yet life goes on.

A Kelly Clarkson ditty comes to mind: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ...’’

Playing football is what Williams does for a living and how he makes his money.

But that’s not who he is.

How Marcus Alan Williams handles the adversity, ultimately, will define who he is.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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