The Vikings waited eight years to get a home playoff game, but that experience ended quickly as they went one-and-done with a 26-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in a game they had chances to win and even looked like the better team for much of the contest.
Big plays were the undoing of their potential success, with a 71-yard pass play given up by the defense, a costly interception on offense and special teams that were clearly outplayed.
It was a playoff disappointment in which the Minnesota Vikings defense stood up time and again through three quarters of football and didn't give up its first touchdown of the game until the fourth quarter. Instead, the Eagles built their lead by winning the game of field position on special teams, converting field goals and taking advantage of one big interception thrown by Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
All of that added up to a 16-14 Eagles lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Philadelphia broke it up with a 71-yard touchdown that started with a perfectly timed screen pass to Brian Westbrook and ended with the Eagles holding a 23-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, at which point they could commit to pressuring Jackson and protecting against the deep ball.
Through much of the game Jackson held his own, but during one stretch of the fourth quarter under heavy pressure he succumbed with seven straight incompletions. Jackson finished the game completing 15 of 35 passes for 164 yards. But without a touchdown pass and his extremely costly interception, he ended with a 45.4 passer rating while none of his receivers had more than 36 yards receiving.
The running game tried to assist, but even with a 40-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson that was met with a blitz that didn't contain him, he rushed 20 times for 83 yards and as a team the Vikings ran 34 times for 148 yards (4.4-yard average).
Without Pat Williams, the rushing defense held up just fine, limiting the Eagles to 67 yards on 23 carries (a 2.9-yard average), but it was in the passing game – and one play in particular – that the Eagles outdid the Vikings. When Donovan McNabb needed to put the game away, he came through the screen pass that Westbrook turned into an improbable touchdown. McNabb finished the game completing 23 of 34 passes for 300 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It started slowly for both offenses.
The Vikings won the toss and deferred, which looked like a smart move when the defense moved the Eagles back and forced a third-and-12 on the first drive. Kevin Curtis got the first down there, but the defense eventually forced a punt.
Minnesota followed suit by picking up a first down and then being forced to punt, but when Chris Kluwe outkicked his coverage, DeSean Jackson split the gunners, found a seam, juked Kluwe and ran down the sideline 62 yards, which was enough to set up the Eagles in field goal position. After the Vikings declined a third-down holding call against the Eagles, David Akers gave Philadelphia a 3-0 lead with a 43-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.
The Vikings responded with a drive across midfield, with Jackson converting third downs with completions of 9 yards to Bernard Berrian and 11 yards to Bobby Wade. But two straight incompletions brought the drive to a halt and this time Kluwe hit a clunker, a 17-yard punt out of bounds at the 25-yard line.
It didn't take the Eagles long to take advantage. Correll Buckhalter took a second-down handoff 27 yards around right end. Two plays later, they got into field goal position on an 8-yard pass to Reggie Brown. Akers hit the 51-yarder and the Eagles had a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Vikings responded with a touchdown drive on the ensuing series. Jackson picked up the initial first down with a 13-yard pass to Sidney Rice, and Sheldon Brown gave them the next first down with a pass interference penalty on Aundrae Allison. Once inside Eagles territory, Jim Johnson's defense sold out and Peterson burned them with a 40-yard touchdown run to take their first and only lead of the game, 7-6, with 11:05 to play in the second quarter.
The Eagles answered with another scoring drive, their third in four drives. McNabb got them moving with a 12-yard pass to Curtis, but the big play of the drive was a 34-yard bomb down the right sideline to Jackson. That got Akers into field goal position again and he connected on a 31-yard attempt to retake the lead, 9-7, with 7:29 to play in the second quarter.
They would quickly extend that lead when Jackson unloaded a third-down pass under pressure and CB Asante Samuel jumped the sideline route and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown and a 16-7 Philadelphia lead with 6:34 to play in the half.
Minnesota was able to halt the Eagles momentum, however, going on a 64-yard touchdown drive. Berrian picked up the initial first down with a 27-yard reception that he nearly broke on third-and-4. Then Jackson hit Wade for 10 yards, and Chester Taylor put it on the doorstep with three runs that gained a combined 17 yards. At second-and-goal, Peterson finished the drive with a 3-yard run to cut the deficit to two points, 16-14, with 1:51 to play, a lead that would hold up until halftime when Cedric Griffin intercepted a third-down pass from McNabb on the Eagles' ensuing drive.
Both teams went on extended drives to open the second half – the Vikings with eight plays and the Eagles with 13 plays – but both ended in punts as the Eagles gained the field-position advantage. That edge only increased when another special teams miscue allowed a 30-yard punt return for Jackson, setting up McNabb on the Minnesota 40-yard line, but Allen quickly erased that advantage when he stripped McNabb of the ball and DT Fred Evans recovered.
That turnover was the only thing that broke up six punts between the two teams from the start of the second half until the late stages of the fourth quarter.
In crunch time, however, the Eagles got the big play they needed to put the game away. Taking their fourth possession of the second half, McNabb started with an innocent-looking screen pass to Brian Westbrook. But it was anything but innocent when Westbrook weaved his way through traffic for a 71-yard touchdown to all but put the game away with a 23-14 lead with 6:37 to play against an offense that struggled in the second half.
That trend continued for the Vikings, as they were only able to pick up two first downs in their next two drives – one on a roughing-the-passer penalty – with the second drive ending with a low snap from Matt Birk to Jackson in the shotgun formation that was recovered by DE Juqua Parker.
Philadelphia took advantage of that midfield gift, gaining one first down, running the clock down to 1:55 and kicking a 45-yard field goal for a 26-14 lead that would easily hold up when the Vikings took only underneath passes and ended the game with the ball.
For the Vikings, it was another year under Brad Childress in which they improved by two games from the previous season. This time, they made playoffs but couldn't continue the momentum any deeper than one-and-done.
Vikings knocked from playoffs, 26-14
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