By Jason Keidel
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After the first drive, everything, from the score to recent history, was pointing to Minnesota. The Vikings had scored on five straight opening possessions, were up 7-0 and were 7-0 this season when scoring first.
Then they played the rest of the game.
Rather than stack onto their lead on their next drive and go up 14-0, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum threw a wobbly ball — thanks to Eagles defensive end Chris long, who swatted Keenum’s left arm as he was throwing — that was picked by Patrick Robinson and returned for a 50-yard touchdown.
On the next possession, Keenum fumbled, which led to another Eagles TD. So instead of 14-0 Vikings, it was suddenly 14-7 Eagles. Keenum’s fumble — just his second all season — thwarted another drive deep into Eagles territory. Indeed, 14 of Philadelphia’s 24 first-half points came off turnovers, while the Eagles did not turn the ball over themselves. The 24 points were the most Minnesota allowed in a first half all season, even if the defense was not entirely to blame.
Eagles QB Nick Foles had completed just one pass over 20 yards before the game. By the end of the third quarter, he had four passes over 30 yards. Foles completed his last 15 throws for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his TD passes went to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who added to his odd dominance over a good team. Over his career, Jeffery has scored nine touchdowns against the Vikings, yet has scored more than three against only one other team. In the ultimate scalp-scratcher from a player who wasn’t even supposed to be on the field Sunday, Foles is the first QB since Joe Montana to complete 75 percent of his passes in consecutive playoff games.
The Eagles’ 38 points were the most scored on the Vikings’ robust defense all season. The Vikings, meanwhile, never scored after their opening drive. After all the carnage, the Eagles moonwalked to a 38-7 victory, sending them to their third Super Bowl in franchise history and their first in 13 years. They will play the Patriots, the same team they lost to in Super Bowl XXXIX.
What does it all mean? For all the frothing over franchise quarterbacks, Foles and Keenum played for he NFC spot in the Super Bowl. In the absence of a great quarterback, you need a great defense, which both clubs had. Not long ago, the Denver Broncos’ defense carried a diminished Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl, beating the best QB and player in the sport that season, Cam Newton.
Quarterbacks still matter. Foles played like a franchise QB on Sunday and will face the ultimate franchise and big-game QB in Tom Brady, who’s making his eighth — say it again, eighth — trip to the Super Bowl and has yet to lose one to any signal-caller not named Eli Manning.
Even in football, long built on formula and philosophy, you have a game, team or player that flips the orthodoxy on its head. The Eagles played the role of underdog — and sported those German shepherd masks — to a perfect, indignant pitch. The only conference top seed to be an underdog at home (twice, no less), the Eagles played the perfect team game, channeled the emotion of the home crowd and home town, and just shellacked the shell-shocked Vikings. We’ve become tired of the forced, downtrodden persona. But the Eagles were the rare team that really made it work.
Before the game, Terry Bradshaw, who knows something about Super Bowls, told Foles he could win the next two games, including the Super Bowl, and still return to camp next summer as the backup. Carson Wentz is still the darling of the franchise and the city. Foles nodded in understanding and agreement. But perhaps one more win will get Foles another shot with another team, while bringing Philadelphia its first NFL title since 1960.
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