by Thomas U. Tuttle
It was a Philadelphia beat-down this past Sunday, and there’s no other way to frame it.
Studying the 38-7 loss at this point really doesn’t serve a lot of purpose; everyone saw with their own eyes the mauling at Lincoln Financial Field. We will nonetheless take a glance back at the debacle in this column, and will do so with an eye to the future.
In looking at the eventual blowout, even the nastiest beer-swilling, egg-throwing Eagles fan would have to acknowledge this fact; the Minnesota Vikings dominated the first 8:20 of the NFC championship game and looked headed for a possible 14-0 lead when Chris Long (son of commentator Howie) put his big maw in the chest of Vikings QB Case Keenum, who was in full throwing motion.
The ball, intended for Adam Thielen who was open at midfield, floated down like a Bud Grant shotgun-riddled duck before settling in the ready hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson.
Florida State product Robinson showed his great athleticism by weaving and cutting like a running back, following his convoy of Eagles blockers in returning the ball 50 yards for the pick-6. Pow, right to the Vikes chops!
Just like that, a 14 point swing and a 7-7 ballgame. And as we all witnessed, a momentum shift of tsunami proportions.
This was immediately going to be a different ballgame and every person watching this contest had to know it.
(Interestingly, both veterans Long and Robinson were off-season acquisitions of the Eagles, now brilliant-looking hires of NFC executive of the year, Howie Roseman. Chris Long would later recover a key fumble forced by Derek Barnett.)
On the following Purple possession the boys went three and out, kicking to Philly who went 70+ yards for a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. The game was still tight, but now the huge crowd was wild and wooly, Philly-style, and the Vikes needed a response.
After a couple of exchanges, the Vikings moved all the way to the Eagles 16 yard line and were looking capable of tying up the ballgame, particularly because Jerick McKinnon really came to play and displayed his pass-catching and running ability on the drive. But then another disaster struck.
Keenum was sacked and stripped at the 25, with Long pouncing on the pigskin at the 24.
After a series of plays moved the ball to the Philadelphia 47 with 1:20 left, QB Nick Foles (who played solid all day) hit Alshon Jeffery for a 53 yard touchdown that was a huge blow.
But while 21-7 was a big hurt to the Vikings cause, it was what happened right before the half, and immediately after the half, that finished the Purple. The Vikes tried to get in position for a pre-halftime score, but failed and were forced to punt. The Eagles used their momentum to get into field position themselves, moving the deficit to 24-7 with just four seconds left in the half. This game started to feel over…
…and if it wasn’t, Philly took the second half kickoff and drove convincingly for another seven points to make it 31-7. At this point, the fat lady was entering Lincoln Financial Field to sing her song of defeat to Minnesota.
There would be no coming back.
The score would have looked better, and perhaps slightly less embarrassing, if Adam Thielen had made his tough catch for the touchdown late, but even that was not to be.
Speaking of Thielen, 2017 was a revelation and a mild surprise to me. It is the belief here that his talent is no mirage. But this was one solid year and he’ll have things to prove next season. Like a pitcher who cruises through his first starts in the Big Leagues, D-backs in the NFL now are well acquainted with AT and there will be new pressure on the ’17 Pro Bowler.
I’m not sure what the situation is with coaches and the front office regarding receiver Laquon Treadwell, the 23rd pick of the entire 2016 draft, but his uninspiring first two seasons are beginning to look like a blown first round selection. And a miss like Treadwell will definitely hurt a football team.
He had no catches and no targets in Philadelphia. Nada. Big Ouch!
Minnesota will count on Dalvin Cook to return strong following his injury early in the season. He appears to be a special back, with even more upside than he showed. Look for good competition at running back next year given the performance of the current backs, who may want to test the market.
The offensive line will get healthy and return as a Vikings strength, which they were not on Sunday. Keenum was under a lot of pressure all afternoon, which was expected but not at the level Philadelphia delivered.
It is tough not to love the Purple defense, despite a sub-par performance by a banged up unit.
Xavier Rhodes being out was huge, and DB Trey Wayne’s was exposed on a couple of important plays. We now realize safety Andrew Sendejo is a good player to have on the field.
But the big one, the current elephant in the room, is the quarterback situation. Each of the three QB’s has great strengths and some areas that can be improved upon. We will look at this more closely next week, but for my money you have to stick with Case Keenum.
All in all, he played very well indeed, essentially coming out if nowhere to lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship game and a personal Pro Bowl berth. There may be serious competition or there may not, but I think Mike Zimmer now trusts Keenum to lead this team.
And trust is a giant thing for Zim. They could make him the franchise player or not, but despite a lousy finish to the season, it says here Case Keenum should be the Minnesota Vikings quarterback next year.