By Kevin McGuire
Despite being underdogs at home in Lincoln Financial Field for a second straight week, the Philadelphia Eagles turned in the best performance of the season to send the Minnesota Vikings home after a 38-7 victory in the NFC Championship Game. Behind a brilliant performance by Nick Foles and a defense that shut things down after the game’s opening drive, the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl to face the New England Patriots. After the first two possessions of the game, the Eagles ripped off 38 unanswered points for their third NFC championship in franchise history.
Following a performance like that to claim the conference championship, the Eagles earned straight A’s across the board in the final report card of the season before the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles earned game MVP honors following a fantastic performance in the biggest game of his career. Foles passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns and took just one sack for a loss of six yards. He also did not turn the football over while averaging 10.7 yards per attempt. Foles was simply on fire after the first offensive series saw a couple of receivers fail to make a couple of key catches. Zach Ertz led all players with 93 receiving yards and Alshon Jeffery scored two touchdowns, including a 53-yard strike in the second quarter, as the Eagles were taking full control of the game before halftime.
Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount used their running abilities to power the ground attack, with Blount muscling his way up the middle of the top-ranked defense for a touchdown and Ajayi rumbling for 73 yards on 18 carries. Corey Clement also had two rushes for 20 yards and caught a pass for eight more yards.
The Eagles scored more points in the first half than the Vikings had given up in the first half all season, and the Birds went on to stack 38 points on the NFL’s best defense coming in. The Eagles put together 456 yards of total offense without a single turnover, with 27 first downs, and went 10-of-14 on third downs. The Eagles also scored 14 points on their two red zone trips.
While the Eagles offense thrived in the red zone, it was the defense coming up big in the red zone all game long. The Vikings scored zero points on three red-zone trips, turning the football over each time. The Eagles were constantly on Case Keenum after the first series of the game, and contact was what led to an errant pass that was picked off by Patrick Robinson and returned for a first-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 7-7. It was a totally different ball game from that point on. The Vikings came back with two straight three-and-outs, fumbled inside the red zone with the score at 14-7, and the Vikings were never able to create any mismatches and find big plays the way they did in the first possession of the game.
Ronald Darby broke up three passes and came back to make a key block on Robinson’s defensive touchdown. Darby got obliterated trying to make a block, but it was a sacrifice that allowed just enough room for Robinson to get by and reach the end zone. Chris Long got to the quarterback a couple of times, including making the contact leading to the pick-six. Vinny Curry also came up big on the defensive line and Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks had big games as well.
Special Teams: A
This was a game that needed very little form the special teams department, and that is perfectly fine for all involved. Jake Elliott kicked the lone 38-yard attempt he was asked to kick, and he converted on all five extra point attempts. Punter Donnie Jones punted three times and downed each inside the 20-yard line with no returns allowed. Kenjon Barner had just one chance to return a punt, and he picked up 10 yards on it. The lone blemish on special teams was an early penalty for running into the returner, a 15-yard penalty on Shelton Gibson.
In his first NFC Championship Game as the head coach, Doug Pederson and his staff turned in one of the finest masterpieces in franchise history. Pederson once again pulled out a game plan that was executed confidently by Foles and the Eagles, and he was not afraid to call a flea flicker with things rolling well. One of many key moments from the sideline may have come late in the first half when the Eagles opted to try and work their way into field goal range before the end of the half. A brief four-play, 60-yard possession led to a field goal by Jake Elliott to pad the lead at 24-7 going into halftime. Game, set, match.
Jim Schwartz called a great game on defense and Frank Reich deserves props for his role in having the offense in sync as well.
Up Next: The Eagles will move on to the Super Bowl in the Vikings’ home stadium. They will be facing the AFC champion New England Patriots in two weeks. It will be the second Super Bowl matchup between the Eagles and Patriots. The AFC champion Patriots rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars behind a hall-of-fame revival led by Tom Brady without Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski left the game with a concussion, throwing his status for the Super Bowl in question for a second straight season. The Patriots will be playing for their sixth Super Bowl championship and second in two seasons. The Eagles, of course, are going for their first NFL championship in the Super Bowl era.
The way the Eagles just dismantled the NFL’s best defense, why can’t this be the year?