By Al Thompson
The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.
Against all odds, this group has already done what many creditable observers said was impossible.
But the Eagles have accomplished the impossible. And to a man, no one in the Eagles locker room believes their job is finished, not by a long shot.
The Birds won the NFC title without their league MVP quarterback, no Hall of Fame offensive tackle, no starting middle linebacker, no starting kicker or special teams ace and no Pro Bowl running back and kick returner…all lost for the season.
Yet the Birds will face the New England Patriots Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota in Super Bowl LII with a chance to earn the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history and the first NFL Championship in 57 years.
The Eagles, three-point underdogs, crushed the Minnesota Vikings 38–7 at a jam-packed, raucous Lincoln Financial Field, 1 Lincoln Financial Field Way, Sunday night after spotting the visitors a seven-point lead on the first drive of the game.
“We’re going to the Super Bowl,” said head coach Doug Pederson when asked what his message was to his team after they filed into the locker room after the celebration with their fans. “We’re going to the stinking Super Bowl, and that’s all we need to know. I was just so proud of them for the season so far. We still have some unfinished business, obviously. But we’re going to pack our bags and head to Minneapolis.”
After the Eagles won the toss and deferred, the Vikings went through the Eagles defense like a hot knife through butter.
Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Case Keenum capping a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Before you took your first bite of your hot dog, it was 7–0.
It looked like it might be a long day for the Birds.
Little did anyone know at the time, that would be the only points the Vikings would muster for the entire game.
Quarterback Nick Foles, who has been under center since week 14 of the regular season for the injured Carson Wentz, and the Eagles moved the ball a bit on their opening drive, but on third and four at their own 42-yard line, a ball caught out of bounds by Trey Burton forced the Eagles to punt.
It didn’t look any more promising for the Eagles when a 15-yard penalty was called on Sheldon Gibson while Marcus Sherels was trying to make a fair catch at the Vikings 14-yard line.
From the 29-yard line, Keenum led Vikings to their 43-yard line. That’s where everything changed.
On third and eight, Keenum dropped back to pass. The five-year pro out of Houston went to launch a rope to wide receiver Adam Thielen, but veteran defensive end Chris Long managed to get a few fingers on Keenum’s throwing arm, re-directing the pass right into the hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson who took off on a wild, thrilling 50-yard run for a touchdown.
Fellow corner Ronald Darby laid a devastating block on running back Jerick McKinnon creating a lane to the end zone for Robinson. When Robinson intercepted the pass at midfield, the Eagles sideline was on his left.
“I told the guys before the game that I was not going out of bounds when I get a pick,” Robinson said at his locker after the game. “So I’m running down the sideline and I thought, ‘I can’t go out of bounds.’ So I looked to my right and saw a lineman between me and a running back and thought that was the path. Darby was right there, he took out (No.) 21 (McKinnon) and I knew I was good to go.”
Suddenly the score was 7–7. That touchdown was the start of 38 unanswered points scored by the Eagles.
Foles was asked if Robinson’s pick-six pumped up the offense.
“I don’t think it just pumped up the offense, I think it pumped up the whole city of Philadelphia,” Foles said with an ear-to-ear grin at his post-game press conference. “I think everyone down Broad Street heard that, and I can only imagine what’s going on down on Broad Street right now. I know everyone is probably having a good time as they should. But anytime you get a pick-six it’s a momentum change. [Patrick Robinson] made a play. It was the biggest play of the game and a momentum shift.”
Foles and the offense came right back out and put on a textbook drive that went 75 yards on 12 plays taking up 6:20minutes of clock and was capped off by LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard touchdown run.
Foles went on to throw three touchdown passes.
The first was a 53-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery on a broken play to give the Eagles a 21–7 lead with 1:09 left in the half. The Birds would tack on a Jake Elliott 38-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Then Foles hit Torrey Smith on a 41-yard flea-flicker in the third quarter to make the score 31–7.
Jeffery’s five-yard catch in the back of the end zone with 14:10 left in the fourth ended the scoring for the night and ended Minnesota’s season.
Foles finished 26 of 33 for 352 yards, three touchdown passes, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 141.4, the second-best figure in Eagles single-game postseason history, behind Rodney Peete on Dec. 30, 1995 vs. Detroit (143.3). He was sacked once.
The Birds rushed 30 times for 110 yards as a team, Jay Ajayi accounting for 73 yards on 18 carries. Ajayi also caught three passes for 26 yards.
Tight end Zach Ertz led the Eagles with eight catches for 93 yards. Jeffery finished with five catches for 85 yards.
Keenum was 28 of 48 for 271 yards, one touchdown pass, two interceptions, a lost fumble and a quarterback rating of 63.8. He was sacked once.
McKinnon caught 11 passes for 86 yards. The hero of the Vikings win over New Orleans, Stefon Diggs, caught eight passes for 70 yards.
Keenum talked about how tough this loss was to him and the team.
“They’re all hard to swallow,” Keenum said. “Once you get a game away from playing in the Super Bowl, that’s going to be hard to swallow. The way it happened, I mean, they played really well and we didn’t. It’s unfortunate.”
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham talked about the Eagles and their amazing run after losing so many key players.
“We’re a resilient team,” Bradham said, wearing his NFC Conference Champs T-shirt in the middle of the locker room. “And we’re built for this. One thing about it, this is a group of guys…we’re all special. We’ve been though all types of adversity, all types of situations and came out of that adversity on top. We’re going to continue to grind, continue to stay strong no matter what happens, no matter what we face, no matter what injuries we get, we’ll just continue to battle. That’s our mentality.”
Thielen was asked if it was more what the Eagles were doing or what the Vikings did to themselves that produced such a poor performance.
“It was both,” said Thielen, who was targeted eight times but caught just three passes for 28 yards. “Obviously, they made the plays. We have to get open sooner and present the quarterback with an open receiver. They’re a really good defense, they’re a great team. And their players made plays and our didn’t. That’s the moral of the story. This one’s going to hurt for us for a long time but it’s something we need to take into next year.”
For the Eagles, it’s next week. Long and Blount both played for New England last year and helped the Patriots and Tom Brady win their fifth Super Bowl.
Blount said the circumstances with him and Long are unusual. They both have friends on the team they will want to beat very badly on Feb. 4.
“We’re excited about it,” Blount said at his locker after the game. “Obviously when you go to teams you make lifelong bonds with guys. There won’t be any friendliness or any brotherhood or anything like that. I’m going to let them knowtonight that we’re still going to be boys forever, but you’re going to be on the other sideline two weeks from now so we’re going to cancel all that until afterwards.”
The Eagles and their fans hope the afterwards includes hoisting a Super Bowl trophy.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii