PHILADELPHIA—The Vikings would have travelled anywhere to play in their first Super Bowl since 1977.
This year, though, the game is in their stadium. They won't be in it.
“I mean, we would've loved to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China,” coach Mike Zimmer said last night after the Philadelphia Eagles humbled Minnesota 38-7 for the NFC championship.
“But we didn't play good enough to win," he stressed. ”I know that's cliché but it's true.
“We have to give them a lot of credit," Zimmer added. ”They played great on defence, played good on offence.
“Some of our strengths they attacked on third downs, which was one of our strengths all along,” he noted.
“They got after us tonight.”
Sure did. After the Vikings (14-4) took a 7-0 lead on the game's opening drive, it was all Philadelphia (15-3).
One place the Eagles dominated was third downs, converting 10-of-14 against the league leader on defence in that category.
Two of those conversions were for touchdowns on Nick Foles' passes to Alshon Jeffery for 53 and five yards.
Was Zimmer surprised by how his team couldn't handle such situations?
“No. Actually most of the things they did, we practised," he remarked. "They ran them just a little better than we covered them.”
Well, a lot better.
Philly also won the turnover battle 3-0—another significant contribution to one of Minnesota's worst playoff defeats.
“One of the things we preached coming in was turnovers," said Case Keenum, who threw a "pick-6” to Patrick Robinson that tied the game 7-7 and began the Eagles' onslaught.
“They took care of the football and we didn't,” Keenum added.
“We were still winning at that point, obviously, but we couldn't execute on the critical situations that we needed to on third downs or scoring in the red zone.”
The outcome pretty much was decided by halftime, when it was 24-7.
Philadelphia was winning in the trenches, the Vikings couldn't cover tight end Zach Ertz, and the secondary was torched for a 53-yard TD catch by Alshon Jeffery and a 41-yarder by Torrey Smith.
It all made for a long night two weeks before Minneapolis hosts the Super Bowl that the Eagles and New England Patriots now have reached.
“They're all hard to swallow," Keenum said of the loss. ”Once you get a game away from playing in the Super Bowl, that's going to be hard to swallow.
“The way it happened, I mean, they played really well and we didn't,” he conceded.
Zimmer praised his team's performance this season, and rightfully so. For portions of the schedule, the Vikings were as good as anyone, particularly on defence, where they allowed a league-low 252 points.
But they also were extremely fortunate to get to the NFC title game—winning on a last-play 61-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs the previous Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
“I love this football team; they're great kids, great competitors,” Zimmer lauded.
“I love how they go about their business," he said. ”I love everything about this football team. I love the organization.
"We just didn't get it done tonight.
“I'm not going to grade anybody's performance tonight,” Zimmer added.
“I think there's a lot of performances that could've been a lot better, including myself.”