Turning point: One mistake each phase

The difference in the Vikings leaving the Metrodome Sunday night as winners or losers came down to three critical plays - one on offense, one on defense and one special teams - in their 26-14 loss to Philadelphia.

There is a time-honored axiom about football that it has three phases – offense, defense and special teams. While the Eagles didn't dominate the Vikings during Sunday's 26-14 win, one huge play from each of the three phases of the game were the result of the season-ending turning point of the game.

The first of the three came midway through the first quarter. Each team had been turned back by the other's defense after starting deep in their own territory – the Eagles from their own 11-yard line and the Vikings from their own 10-yard line.

On the Vikings' first punt of the game, Chris Kluwe bombed a 60-yard punt, but, as has happened so many times during the 2008 season, the coverage team wasn't downfield in time. Rookie DeSean Jackson was able to catch the punt on his own 19-yard line, find a seam up the right side of the Vikings defense and race 62 yards to the Vikings 27-yard line. While the Vikings defense would make a stop thanks to a sack by Jared Allen, it was already close enough for David Akers to kick a 43-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead with 6:44 to play in the first quarter.

The second of the three big plays came almost exactly one quarter later. With 6:50 remaining in the second quarter, the Vikings had the ball on their own 35-yard line facing a third-and-4. Tarvaris Jackson tried to throw a sideline pass to Sidney Rice, but Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel jumped the route, caught the ball in stride and returned the pick 44 yards for an Eagles touchdown. Less than five minutes earlier, the Vikings had their only lead of the game at 7-6 with 11:05 to play. Now, with 6:34 to play in the first half, the Eagles had a 16-7 lead that they would never relinquish.

The final act of the Vikings' trilogy of despair came with slightly less than seven minutes to play. The game was still very much up in the air with the Eagles clinging to a 16-14 lead from their own 29-yard line. To that point, the Vikings defense had only allowed three field goals and needed another stop in order to give the offense a chance to rally for the potential game-winning points. However, that would come to an abrupt halt. On a first-down play, Donovan McNabb tossed a short screen to Brian Westbrook, who got a wall of blockers in front of him and raced 71 yards for a touchdown that extended the lead to 23-14 and, for all intents, put the game on ice. To that point, Westbrook had been completely shut down, rushing 14 times for just 18 yards and catching two passes for 12 yards. But one play later, the Eagles had the game firmly in their control.

"One play," said defensive end Jared Allen, shaking his head. "Our whole season comes down to one play. You don't want to give up a 70-yard screen. If it happens in the first quarter or the first half, you can recover from that. But in the fourth quarter down by two? That's tough."

Kevin Williams shared the sentiment, saying that the timing of the play and the defense the Vikings were running was a lethal mix.

"It was back and forth all day," Williams said. "I think we had momentum and should have kept blitzing all day. Hats off to them. They called the perfect play for a man-to-man defense."

In the end, whether it was the one play in the fourth quarter or the three plays throughout the game, the offense, defense and special teams all had a hand in the Eagles leaving the Metrodome with a win.


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