If there's anyone out there who still doubts that the Eagles are legitimate contenders without Carson Wentz, who still wonders if Doug Pederson is going to crumble in crunch-time, who still questions their chances to win the Super Bowl ... tonight is your answer.
On Sunday night, the top-seeded (but underdog) Eagles dashed the Vikings' home-field Super Bowl dreams with a 38-7 win in front of a dog-masked crowd of believers. Philadelphia -- without Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Sidney Jones, and so on -- is the one true king in the NFC.
So, it'll be the Eagles who will face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4. It's the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since February 2005. Just like the last time they were there, the Eagles will be tasked with preventing the inevitable: another ring for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots. They'll hope that this go-around has a different ending.
But the Patriots are a problem for another day. For now, the Eagles should savor what ended up being a thorough, complete, and vicious beatdown while their always passionate fan base tries its best to climb its way up those greased street poles in downtown Philadelphia. Given the state of the fans inside Lincoln Financial Field (lit) ...
... and the state of the fans outside of the stadium (equally lit) ...
... it's safe to assume poles will be climbed on Sunday night.
The other side of this story is a story of heartbreak, of coming oh-so-close to pulling of a feat that had never been done before in NFL history. The Vikings were on the cusp of becoming the first team to play in a Super Bowl at their home stadium, but they fell short by a significant margin in their final test.
All night long, the Eagles' defense got after Case Keenum, hitting and harassing him to the tune of one sack and eight hits. Pressure directly led to a pick-six and red-zone fumble. In all, the Eagles' defense registered eight passes defended and three turnovers, and stifled all three of the Vikings' red-zone trips. They held Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to 98 yards. It was the kind of effort that adds legitimacy to the notion that the Eagles can find a way to stop the unstoppable machine that is the Patriots in two weeks. At the very least, with a similar defensive effort, the Eagles will stand a chance.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line held up against a stout Vikings defensive front. Philadelphia's offensive coaching staff crafted a beautiful gameplan involving frequent run-pass options, quick hitters, and even a flea flicker for Nick Foles, who rewarded them with big-time completions on key passing downs. Both LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ran around and through the Vikings' defense, while Zach Ertz served as the safety net and Alshon Jeffery went deep as the home-run threat. The Foles-quarterbacked offense disemboweled what's been by many measures the league's best defense.
Foles led the charge, completing 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards (10.7 YPA), three touchdowns, no picks, and a 141.4 passer rating. The ground assault rumbled for 110 yards. Nobody scored more points on the Vikings this year than the Eagles did on Sunday night.
Foles will get the headlines, but the victory started with the Eagles' defense -- specifically, Chris Long and Patrick Robinson. Understanding how the Eagles got here requires journeying back to the start, when the Vikings looked like the better team until the Eagles' defense gave Philadelphia the spark it desperately needed.
Here are seven takeaways from the Eagles' blowout win.
1. Giveaways doom Vikings
The beginning of the game unfolded perfectly for the Vikings, who fielded the opening kickoff and proceeded to march efficiently downfield. Using a heavy dose of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon and a well-timed passing play by Keenum and Adam Thielen, the Vikings journeyed into Eagles territory. At the 25-yard line, Keenum motioned Murray out wide and in the process sent the Eagles' defense into a state of confusion, which led to tight end Kyle Rudolph running free up field. Keenum hit Rudolph for the game's first score, a 25-yard touchdown.
The Eagles responded with a messy drive involving a missed deep connection between Foles and Torrey Smith and a failed third-down conversion because Trey Burton didn't get two feet down in-bounds on a routine catch. On the punt, they interfered with the returner.
Everything was going the Vikings' way -- that is, right up until the moment Eagles defensive end and free agent addition Chris Long made contact with Keenum as he tried to convert a third down on the ensuing drive, which popped the ball high into the air and short of Keenum's target. Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson, another free agent addition, snagged the wobbly floater, crossed the field, and scored on a 50-yard return.
Just like that, the Eagles' slow start was negated by one big play by two free-agent additions. The game was tied at 7-7.
Turns out Case Keenum is indeed ticklish. pic.twitter.com/cf2ycXFLTC— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 22, 2018
The Eagles added another touchdown, this time via their offense, to take a 14-7 lead. Finally, the Vikings woke up from their brief nightmare and hit back. But disaster struck in the red zone.
On third-and-5 from the 16-yard line, Eagles rookie defensive end Derek Barnett -- taken with the pick the Vikings sent to Philadelphia in the Sam Bradford trade, by the way -- blindsided Keenum to force a fumble. Long gobbled up the loose football. Once again, a turnover foiled the Vikings' plans.
According to NFL Research, the Vikings were the only team that did not allow a defensive touchdown during the regular season and one of six teams to go turnover-free in the red zone during the regular season. So much for all of that.
The Eagles wouldn't waste the opportunity.
2. Foles torches the Vikings
Foles made the Vikings pay for the fumble by standing firm in the pocket, nimbly avoiding pressure, and hitting Jeffery deep downfield for a 53-yard scoring strike on third-and-10. This is what the Eagles had in mind when they lured Jeffery away from Chicago in the offseason and signed him to a four-year extension in December:
Foles wasn't done. Already leading 21-7, the Eagles tacked on three points with a four-play, 60-yard drive just before halftime that required only 29 seconds. Then, to begin the third quarter, Foles unloaded a flea-flicker to Torrey Smith. The result? A 41-yard touchdown that turned a dominant win into a blowout.
But again, Foles wanted more. In the fourth quarter, he went back to work. For most of the game, he worked underneath with quick-hitting passes to receivers running slants and quick outs. On his team's final scoring series, he threw downfield and on the run.
And he made a tight-window, red-zone touchdown pass.
The gameplan was excellent. Quick throws and RPOs negated pressure from the Vikings' defense. But this was more than just a great gameplan. This was also about Foles playing the game of his life. Take if from Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke, who said that Foles submitted one of the best playoff performances by a quarterback in the past decade.
That's how proficient Foles was on Sunday night. That's why he'll get the chance to outshine the game's greatest quarterback, Tom Brady, on the game's biggest stage in two weeks time. Though Foles underwent X-rays on his ribs after the game, he told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that he's all "good."
3. Jeffery close to fulfilling his guarantee
A year ago,Even still, Jeffery made a bold prediction, The Bears did not make the Super Bowl, but Jeffery, who signed with the Eagles in the offseason, is Super Bowl-bound. So, in a way, he's actually one win away from fulfilling his guarantee.
Jeffery struggled mightily without Wentz under center until Sunday night. He caught five passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
The Eagles should consider their money well spent.
4. Eagles' defense got after Keenum
During the Minneapolis Miracle a week ago, Keenum finished with a passer rating of 5.1 when the Saints pressured him, according to Pro Football Focus. Entering Sunday night, pressure was thought to be the key to the game from the Eagles defense's perspective. They ended up getting plenty of pressure; to no one's surprise, it worked.
There was the pick-six forced by pressure. There was the strip sack. There was Keenum's entire first half spent under duress.
The Vikings' inability to protect Keenum against a loaded Eagles defensive front ended up being their downfall. And Keenum picked a bad time for his old self to reappear. Keenum finished 28 of 48 for 271 yards (5.6 YPA), one touchdown, two picks, and a 63.8 passer rating. One bad outing shouldn't overshadow what he did all season long, when he rescued the Vikings from Sam Bradford's knee injury, and last week, when he
But Keenum's miraculous season ended in heartbreak.
5. Blount, Ajayi run all over the Vikings
LeGarrette Blount is going to his second straight Super Bowl after winning a ring with the Patriots a year ago. Now, he'll have an opportunity to run all over the Patriots in this season's Super Bowl, kinda like how he ran all over the Vikings.
Need one play to sum up Sunday night? It's Blount going total Beast Mode all over the Vikings. This is the touchdown that gave the Eagles a lead they wouldn't relinquish:
Blount finished with 21 yards on six carries. He was one-upped by his backfield mate, Jay Ajayi, who arrived in Philadelphia just before the trade deadline. The former Dolphins running back led the Eagles' rushing attack with 73 yards on 18 carries.
6. A nice night for the Ertz family
Zach Ertz, one of the game's best tight ends, enjoyed another nice outing. So did his wife, Julie Ertz, one of the world's best soccer players.
The Eagles tight end led the team in receptions with eight and in receiving yards with 93 to help get his team to the Super Bowl. Julie, meanwhile, scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. Women's National Team against Denmark.
Here she is finding out about the Eagles' win:
There's your ultimate sports power couple.
7. What's next?
In the first game of the day, the inevitable happened: Jaguars and book their second straight trip to the Super Bowl. It's their eighth Super Bowl appearance in the past 17 seasons.to stun the
So, the Eagles will be forced to confront the NFL's version of the Galactic Empire in two weeks. Nobody should be surprised to see the Eagles continue to embrace their underdog status.
It all goes down on Feb. 4.
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