By Nick Shook
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Adam Thielen‘s near-touchdown summed up the night — and the season’s end — in one play.
Almost, but not quite.
Fresh off a miraculous finish, the Vikings hit Philadelphia looking for more magic and an NFC crown. They left with the hat, but no rabbit.
Minnesota established an early 7-0 lead before watching it evaporate, replaced by a deficit that ballooned seemingly by the minute. Eaglesquarterback Nick Foles morphed into the best version of himself, displaying razor-sharp accuracy in completing 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. The capper came on a flea flicker from Foles to Torrey Smithto put the Eagles ahead 31-7 and effectively sink any comeback hopes for the Vikings.
A 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game again left the Vikings one win shy of the Super Bowl, much like they were in 2009, 2000 and 1998. But this one hurt a little more, because for this Vikingsteam, one more win would have meant a trip to a Super Bowl hosted in Minneapolis.
Super Bowl win or loss, the Vikings would have made history. Instead, they’re history.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be hard watching those guys come to Minnesota and play in our stadium when we were so close,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “But, like I said, this loss doesn’t take anything away from the guys in this locker room that busted their tail all season long. To win 14 games is hard in this league and you’ve got to tip your hat to every guy and everything that they’ve done for this team. But, like I said, it’s going to be hard to watch them come play in our stadium next week.”
Case Keenum‘s storybook season ended with a thud — 28-of-48 passing, 271 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — and Minnesota’s vaunted defense crumbled, allowing 456 yards and 31 of Philadelphia’s 38 points scored. The Vikings‘ offensive line struggled to protect Keenum, who was harassed for much of the evening and looked completely derailed after an excellent first possession.
“We would’ve loved to play the Super Bowl if it was in China, to be honest with you,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. “But we didn’t play good enough to win, and I know that’s cliche, but it’s true.”
“I felt like we were moving the ball OK, and then we had the interception, then we had the strip sack, the fumble, so it’s hard to overcome those when you’re on the road and play like that,” Zimmer said.
One could see Zimmer reflect on the unraveling as he spoke at the podium, mentally piling up the miscues that spelled his team’s downfall. The coach’s team, known for and expected to adjust at halftime, withered in the second half, turning the ball over on downs twice and seeing another possession end by a tipped interception that fit the tone of the evening. An incredible, unlikely season was over as quick as a Skol chant inside the Mall of America.
The Twin Cities are now saddled with greeting the team that just decimated its own on the doorstep of football’s greatest stage, playing hospitable midwestern host to midnight green-clad fans ready for their team to do battle with the league’s reigning champion. All the while, they’ll have to struggle with the knowledge they were one bad evening along the Delaware River from it being their Vikings, who haven’t seen such a stage since the 1976 season.
“I love this football team. I love them,” Zimmer said. “They’re great kids, great competitors. I love how they go about their business. … We just didn’t get it done tonight.”
They’ll have two weeks filled with reminders, and many more after that to reflect on what went wrong and determine how a season that seemed destined for a Lombardi came crashing down in Philadelphia.