Matt Birk took a little extra time following Sunday's loss to the Eagles to take time to say goodbye to some of his teammates. With his contract status still up in the air, it's unclear whether his goodbyes with his teammates will be his last or not.
There was a sense of finality to the Vikings' 26-14 loss to the Eagles Sunday night in the first round of the NFC playoffs. One couldn't help but notice center Matt Birk
, who has spent 11 years with the Vikings and the last nine as a starter, walking around the locker room shaking hands with his teammates.
As a potential free agent in less than two months, Birk may have played his last game as a member of the Vikings. He was a little philosophical about his future and said he wanted to make sure his teammates were aware that he appreciated them.
"When the end (to a season) is here, you know a lot of guys aren't going to be back," Birk said. "It's a last chance to enjoy each other. The longer you go – you've got more years behind you than ahead of you – you realize that every game and every chance to be part of a team is precious. You don't take it for granted. When you talk to guys who are retired, the thing they miss is the locker room and the guys. I'm going to make sure I shake everyone's hand and say thanks."
Fellow veteran Antoine Winfield
shared that feeling. Having been around the league for 10 years, he has seen the end of a season resulting in the end of friendships that have been forged over time and knows that when the players pack up their things and take a month or so off to reflect on the season that was, that many of them won't be back when the Vikings start training camp next July – making Sunday's loss even more painful.
"The way I look at today's game was that it was a missed opportunity," Winfield said. "We came a long way. I think overall we had a pretty good year. But in this business, you know this locker room isn't going to be the same next year. That's always the tough part about it."
Several Vikings defenders were quick to say that rumors of Donovan McNabb having lost his mobility were greatly exaggerated. Linebacker Ben Leber said that McNabb not only was able to move around well, but seemed to know what was and wasn't coming.
"He just knew we were disguising sometimes," Leber said of McNabb reading the Vikings defense. "He's a savvy player and wasn't buying some of the bluffs we tried to give him. That comes from experience and he did a very good job of executing."
The frustration of the game was that, despite the score, the game was still up for grabs in the final seven minutes, which only made things worse. "Offensively, we left a lot of stuff on the field," wide receiver Bobby Wade said. "They matched us with a lot of intensity and a lot of knowledge of what's going on with us. Coming out at the half, they made some adjustments we needed to make. They came out with a lot of intensity and we didn't match it."
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who came on strong the final two months of the season, said the team has a lot of the component pieces already in place to hit the ground running next year. "There's a lot to build for next year," Shiancoe said. "We'll be more seasoned. We have players offensively at every position – we have good running backs, a quarterback, wide receivers, a tight end and a good offensive line. We just need to build on what we started this year."
Jared Allen recorded two sacks, which surprisingly ties him for second on the all-time single-game postseason list for the Vikings. The only three-sack game in Vikings postseason history was recorded by Carl Eller against Dallas in the Hail Mary Game of 1975 at Met Stadium.
The Eagles won the total yardage battle 350-301, thanks in large part to a monstrous fourth quarter. The Eagles outgained the Vikings 146-68 in the fourth quarter, when McNabb completed seven of eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating for the quarter was 158.3 – a perfect rating score.
McNabb finished the game completing 23 of 34 passes for 300 yards and a passer rating of 92.8. Tarvaris Jackson completed just 15 of 35 passes for 164 yards, had a fourth-quarter stretch in which he threw seven straight incompletions and had a passer rating for the game of 45.4.
In the battle of the backs, Brian Westbrook came out the winner, despite a brutal rushing day. He finished with 121 total yards – rushing 20 times for just 38 yards, but catching three passes for 83 yards, including the back-breaking 71-yard touchdown. Adrian Peterson had 83 yards rushing on 20 carries, with 40 of those yards coming on his touchdown run in the second quarter.
Chester Taylor played a larger role than some may have anticipated, rushing 12 times for 48 yards and catching five passes for 36 yards. It was expected that, with the amount of blitzing the Eagles defense was going to bring on Jackson, Taylor would be needed to provide blocking help as well as offensive production.
The Eagles had 109 yards in punt-return yardage on five returns. The Vikings had one punt return for one yard. The Vikings had a time-of-possession edge of 26:10 to 18:50 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Eagles held the ball for 9:04 of the fourth quarter to leave the Vikings with a 32:06 to 27:54 time of possession advantage.
The Eagles had three drives start in Vikings territory. Of the Vikings 13 drives in the games, 10 of them started from their own 25-yard line or worse.
Chad Greenway led the Vikings with nine tackles – six of them in the second half. Trent Cole of the Eagles led all defenders with 13 tackles.
The Vikings didn't commit their first penalty until 7:20 remained in the game. They would finish with four penalties by the time the game was over.
The Vikings won an important challenge early in the fourth quarter on a punt deep in Eagles territory. Marcus McCauley went into the end zone and came out to bat the ball to the 4-yard line. Initially, the officials ruled that McCauley never re-established both feet in play. The Vikings challenged and replay confirmed that he did have both feet in play, moving the ball from the 20-yard line back to the 4-yard line.
Jared Allen made his presence felt in the third quarter with the Eagles on the Vikings 38-yard line with a 16-14 lead. He sacked McNabb and knocked the ball loose to give the Vikings a takeaway.
What was a critical play at the time, the Eagles faced a third-and-7 on their first drive of the third quarter from the Vikings 35-yard line. Had they gained nothing, Akers would have had the chance for a 52-yard field goal. But Napoleon Harris got a sack on McNabb in which he tried to throw the ball away, but was ruled in the grasp – much to the dismay of the Eagles sideline. Philadelphia ended up punting the ball to the Vikings.
On the first drive of the second half, the Vikings converted a pair of first downs on passes to Jim Kleinsasser. The 35 yards gained on the two passes exceeded his career postseason total and represented one-third of the catches he had during the regular season.
The Vikings outgained the Eagles in the first half. The Vikes had 195 yards (109 rushing, 86 passing) to 158 for the Eagles (37 rushing, 121 passing). The Vikings held a big time of possession advantage (18::24 to 11:36). The Vikings had 10 first downs, while Phiadelphia had six. The Eagles had three penalties, while the Vikings had none.
The anticipated matchup of stud running backs was pretty lopsided in the first half. Peterson had 12 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown, while Westbrook had seven carries for just 10 yards and two receptions for 12 yards.
Individually, Jackson completed just seven of 16 passes in the first half for 86 yards with an interception. Not only did A.D. rush for 66 yards, Taylor had 10 carries for 43 yards. Berrian and Wade each had two receptions – Berrian's for 36 yards and Wade's for 21 yards. For the Eagles, McNabb completed 11 of 19 passes for 122 yards with an interception. Buckhalter rushed twice for 27 yards and seven different Eagles had receptions – none with more than two.
The Vikings' clock management was called into question once again at the end of the first half. Pinned on their own 18-yard line, the Vikings called a running play to Taylor that gained nothing. With the Eagles with only one timeout left, the Vikings threw an incompletion on second down, which allowed Philly to use its final timeout on a third-down running play. While the Eagles didn't turn the gaffe into points, the fact that they had the opportunity to caused the strategy to be called into question.
Trent Cole had nine tackles in the first half, including five solo tackles.
Darren Sharper suffered a right ankle injury with 10:44 to play in the first half. He returned a couple of plays later, but aggravated the injury and returned to the sideline. He was taken to the locker room prior to halftime and didn't return to the game.
Early in the second quarter, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, who had been bothered with a hip problem sustained during the week of practice, had to come out of the game after a reoccurrence of the injury with 11:26 to play in the first half. On the very next play, Peterson broke off a 40-yard run for a touchdown. Samuel would return to the game and, five minutes later, bring an interception back for a touchdown.
During the entire regular season, the Eagles allowed a longest run by an opponent of just 28 yards before Peterson broke off his 40-yard TD.
The Eagles held a slight statistical edge in the first quarter, gaining 65 yards (29 rushing, 36 passing) to 55 for the Vikings (26 rushing, 29 passing). The Vikings held a time of possession advantage of 7:59 to 7:01. Neither team had a penalty in the first quarter (at least none that were accepted).
Individually in the first quarter, Jackson completed three of seven passes for 29 yards. Taylor ran four times for 24 yards, while Peterson was limited to just two yards on four carries. Three different Vikings caught passes, led by Wade with an 11-yard catch. For the Eagles, McNabb completed four of eight passes for 37 yards. Buckhalter ran twice for 27 yards, while Westbrook was limited to just two yards on three carries. Four different Eagles receivers caught passes.
The Vikings' second punt of the game was almost as bad as the first. With the Vikings stopped on the Philadelphia 42-yard line, Kluwe was asked to punt out of bounds. He did … on the 25-yard line – a 17-yard punt.
Brian Dawkins made his presence felt in the first quarter, hitting Peterson hard as he was going down and snapping his neck backward. A.P. sat out five plays, but returned to the lineup.
The first big coaching decision of the game came midway through the first quarter. With the Eagles on the Vikings 26-yard line on a third-down play, the Eagles were called for a holding penalty that would have backed them up to the 36-yard line. Brad Childress opted to decline the penalty and David Akers made them pay with a 43-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
The first big turning point in the game came as it has too often this season – on special teams. Chris Kluwe banged a 60-yard punt, but his coverage didn't get there in time and DeSean Jackson returned the kick 62 yards to the Vikings 27-yard line. The Eagles would turn that into the game's first points.
McNabb took a lick on the first play of the game. Brian Robison came untouched and drilled McNabb as he threw an incompletion.
The Vikings won the coin toss to start the game but opted to defer, giving the Eagles the ball to start the game.
The Vikings eschewed the standard introduction of either the offense or defense, instead opting to introduce the team as a whole. While it may have been difficult to choose between the introduction of a unit, it might have been in the best interest to get the crowd into the game to give an individual introduction to Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen.
The national anthem was sung by former "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks.
Sunday's game was the 25th time the Vikings qualified for the playoffs.
Sunday was the 43rd playoff game in franchise history. Only the Cowboys (56) and Steelers (47) have played more postseason games. The 43rd game for the Vikings ties them for third all-time with the Giants, Raiders and Rams.
A total of 29 of the 53 players on the Vikings playoff roster were making their first postseason appearance.
Ryan Longwell made his 11th playoff appearance Sunday. Other Vikings making returns to the playoffs included Darren Sharper (10th game), Matt Birk (8th), Vinny Ciurciu (8th), Ellis Wyms (8th), Steve Hutchinson (6th), Artis Hicks (6th), Bernard Berrian (5th), Gus Frerotte (5th), Jim Kleinsasser (5th), Napoleon Harris (4th), Antoine Winfield (4th), Bryant McKinnie (3rd), Visanthe Shiancoe (3rd), Jared Allen (2nd), Ben Leber (2nd) and Chester Taylor (2nd).
Sunday was the third time the Vikings faced Philadelphia in the playoffs. The Eagles won the first two meetings in 1980 and 2004 – the last playoff game the Vikings had played prior to Sunday.
Sunday was the first time that the Vikings and Eagles met in the postseason with the Vikings as the home team.
Dating back to 1989, the Eagles had won seven of the last eight games played against the Vikings, including the last four.
The honorary captains were former Vikings running backs Bill Brown, Chuck Foreman and Robert Smith.
The paid attendance was 61,746 – the 115th straight sellout at the Metrodome.