Eagles Lament Missed Opportunities in Loss to Vikings
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The sense of urgency didn't show up early enough against a wounded and reeling Minnesota team as the Eagles' home-field dominance ended in a mistake-filled performance as Philadelphia dropped an NFC Championship Game rematch to the Vikings by a 23-21 score.
The Eagles (2-3) did rally from a 20-3 deficit to make it a one-score game but a late 52-yard Dan Bailey field goal essentially sealed it for the Vikings. Bailey had missed two much easier attempts -- from 28 yards and 45 yards -- earlier in the game.
A garbage-time touchdown to Zach Ertz with Minnesota playing a laughably soft prevent defense gave the Birds one more opportunity but Adam Thielen recovered a solid Jake Elliott onside kick.
Despite persistent issues in pass protection Kirk Cousins had a brilliant game throwing the football, finishing 30-of-37 for 301 yards and a score to Thielen with a 109.6 passer rating for the Vikings (2-2-1). Thielen recorded his fifth consecutive 100-yard receiving game with seven receptions for 116 yards.
Carson Wentz finished 24-of-35 for 311 yards and two TDs with a 115.3 rating but some of that was aided by Mike Zimmer's strange plan in the waning moments.
Ertz continued his brilliant statistical year with 10 catches for 110 yards and the score while Jay Ajayi paced the running game with just 29 yards despite leaving for a bit with a knee injury.
The Eagles, who have lost consecutive games for the first time since the 2016 season, lamented missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds after the game.
"We just have to make sure we correct our mistakes," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "... we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we have to fix it ourselves."
Ajayi coughed up a huge fumble at the Vikings' 5-yard line during the the Eagles' first possession in the third quarter, a swing that likely took at least three points off the board for Philadelphia and turned it into three for Minnesota when Cousins immediately found Thielen for 68 yards on a zero-blitz with Jalen Mills in man-to-man coverage before Bailey booted a short 22-yard field goal.
The biggest moment for the Eagles, however, came in the fourth quarter while trailing 20-14. Cousins tried to slip a backward pass to Roc Thomas on the edge and the rookie RB couldn't handle it before Nigel Bradman pounced on it at the Vikings' 30.
The huge swing in momentum was thwarted, however, by two penalties, an illegal formation and costly Wentz intentional grounding penalty that pushed Philadelphia out of FG range.
"We have to take advantage of opportunities," Bradham said. "We have been in situations that we have to take advantage of. Obviously, that's what we normally do."
Earlier in the game, a 15-yard roughing-the passer call on Michael Bennett late in the second quarter contributed to the Vikings' lone offensive TD and a strip sack by Stephen Weatherly, who beat All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson on the play, turned into a rumbling 64-yard TD for 330-pound nose tackle Linval Joseph.
"It's tough," Graham said when asked about the Bennett call. " I see Mike trying to get out of the way of hitting him low. I guess he was grabbing at his legs."
Referee Walt Coleman explained the Bennett call to a pool reporter after the game.
"He went low into the quarterback's knees with his shoulder, with force," Coleman explained. "And the rule is that you cannot hit the quarterback low at the knee area with below with force. [Bennett] got him there with his shoulder, so that's what I had as far as roughing the passer."
As for Johnson he owned his mistake.
"Over-kicking I think. I thought the blitz was coming off the edge, I over-kicked it, the defensive end came under me and that's what happened," Johnson said. "It's all angles. It's all fine lines. I'll take the blame for my play and pick it up."
"I paired it up with speed off the ball," the Vanderbilt product, starting for Pro Bowl end Everson Griffen, said. "The tackle kind of over set and I was able to power inside and come down on the quarterback."
A short week is up next with the Eagles making the short trip up the Jersey Turnpike for a Thursday night date with the New York Giants.
“Frustrated? Yes," Wentz said when asked where his team is. "Concerned? No. …We have veteran guys on this team, guys that have been through it all, know how to win. I think we’ll get this thing going.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen