Even after spending all week trying to convince ourselves that this Eagles team would not go into a game against an inferior Vikings team with a sub-par effort like in 2010, it was almost impossible not to get that feel as the contest drew closer. The Vikings would be without their two starting running backs and were coming off a devastating loss to the Ravens. Matt Cassel (yes, that Matt Cassel) would be under center playing for a team with no reason to play for except pride. On the other hand, the Eagles were the hottest team in the NFL, they were keeping teams off the scoreboard, forcing turnovers, and had a young quarterback who looked poised to continue his magical run. All signs pointed in the Eagles direction for a comfortable win. That is, as they say, why they play the games.
From their opening drive, the Vikings established that they had a gameplan that could exploit the Eagles defense. Whether it was due to them preparing for a heavy running attack or just sloppy play, Minnesota was confident that they could throw the ball vertically against an Eagles defense that had done masterfully at avoiding giving up big plays. Cassel looked much more the part of a quarterback that led the Patriots to double-digit wins than a body brought in for the Vikings and their quarterback carousel. Minnesota’s receivers made it their goal to separate from the secondary and use their large frames to create space. If nothing else, I would say the Minnesota offensive gameplan was the difference in this contest.
The Eagles had a fortunate result to the Vikings first drive, when Blair Walsh missed a 55-yard field goal setting Philadelphia up with great field position on their opening drive. Unfortunately, it became clear from the jump that we would be seeing a much different offense that ran the Detroit Lions out of the building last week. With the Minnesota front four generating pressure without blitzing, the vulnerable Vikings secondary could play much more coverage without worrying about unsettling Nick Foles. A quick three-and-out would give Minnesota the ball back, and that’s when things started to get ugly.
Cassel would connect with Greg Jennings on a 57-yard touchdown pass that Patrick Chung was completely burned on. Jennings has been improving as of late, but for how far the veteran wideout was behind the secondary, you could tell there was miscommunication. The Eagles would respond with a 35-yard Alex Henery field goal and trail just 7-3 after the 1st quarter.
After trading field goals on each of their first drives in the 2nd quarter (Henery’s tying a career high from 51 yards out), the Vikings would start to impose their will on the reeling Eagles defense. The Eagles looked like they scored a touchdown on a 4th-and-1 double reverse to DeSean Jackson, but a careless peel back block by Nick Foles negated the score and forced the field goal try. A 16-play, 74 yard drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown by third string running back Matt Asiata (one of a franchise-record tying three on the day) put Minnesota up by 11.
Foles had his best drive of the 1st half right before the break, as he manufactured a eight-play, 60 yard drive to set Henery up for his third field goal of the half. For how bad they looked, being down by eight points and getting the first possession of the second half, things could have been much worse. That became clear once the second half started.
A quick three-and-out would give the ball back over to Cassel and the Vikings, and they would attack the Eagles defense with the deep ball yet again. A 47-yard bomb to Jarius Wright would set the Vikings up deep in Eagles territory, and Cassel would run it in himself two plays later making the score 24-9. The 3rd quarter score put an end to the 9-game streak of not allowing an opponent to score 21 points, the longest such stretch in the NFL prior to the game.
After having a solid end to the 1st half, one might have expected Foles to roll from the start of the 3rd quarter, but that was hardly the case. On a deep ball intended for Riley Cooper, Foles underthrew his target, allowing former Eagle Shaun Prater to settle under for the interception and wash out another scoring opportunity. Foles’ 2nd interception was simply a bad throw with no excuse available as to why the result was a turnover.
While the reasoning as to why is unclear at this point, a visibly upset DeSean Jackson drew the attention of the Fox cameras following the interception. Jackson had to be restrained by his teammates and was as hot as we’ve seen him this season. With how flat the rest of the team looked in the contest, its possible that Jackson was trying to elicit a response from his teammates. Hopefully more details come about as to why the receiver was so irked.
Walsh would kick another field goal to make the deficit 18. A game that the Eagles were heavily favored in was in danger of turning into a blowout. Foles would have a nice bounceback drive on the team’s next possession. He would complete three straight passes, the last of which a beautiful deep ball to Jackson who gained a step past his defender and made a tremendous adjustment to haul in the touchdown. For how poor the rest of the team played, DeSean played like a top receiver and did everything he could to try to will his team to a win.
The Eagles made their best stand for a comeback on the Vikings following drive, when Mychal Kendricks picked off a Cassel pass that Bennie Logan deflected at the line. After Brent Celek rumbled down on a screen pass to the Vikings three-yard line, Foles would throw a beautiful fade to Zach Ertz. Ertz extended one arm and hauled in his most spectacular catch of the year, a touchdown that would draw the Eagles closer. They would fail on the two-point conversion attempt, but down only five, a defensive stop could put the Eagles in position for another 4th quarter win.
A troubling trend of the game was the Eagles insistence on not kicking the ball deep to Vikings returner Cordarralle Patterson. With almost every kicker in the NFL showing an ability to kick the ball through the endzone, you have to wonder if Alex Henery is capable of doing such o a consistent basis. Apparently the Eagles staff is wondering that too, because they would almost give up momentum immediately when the Vikings returned the pooched kick to nearly midfield, setting up a short field for a response drive.
After finally making some of the plays we had gotten used to for the Eagles defense, when they forced a 3rd and 12 for Minnesota, you thought things might be shifting for good in this game. Sunday was not one of those games for the Eagles though. Cassel would fit a pass beyond Kendricks’ hands and into second-string tight end Chase Ford’s midsection for a 37 yard gain and a first down. Asiata would score from a yard out a couple of plays later, and the momentum had shifted back to the Minnesota sideline.
The Eagles were basically in position where they would need to score touchdowns on every drive to win the game. They would suspend that hope almost immediately though, after a three-and-out ended with Nick Foles being sacked and the team being forced to punt.
From there, the teams played out the game rather casually. DeSean Jackson (10 catches, 195 yards) had a spectacular catch and run that set up a Jason Avant touchdown. However, when the Vikings were able to run down the clock with first downs, ultimately scoring on Asiata’s third touchdown of the day.
So at 8-6, the Eagles risk giving up 1st place in the division should the Cowboys beat the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. They still appear to be in good enough shape to set up a division-deciding week 17 matchup in Dallas, but a win over an inferior Vikings team could have put much more pressure on a reeling Dallas team.
Today was as undisciplined and disinterested as the Eagles have looked in quite some time. They had 9 penalties totaling 94 yards, several in key situations. The defense had their worst game since the team’s loss to the Broncos, allowing 455 total yards to a team without their best player. I still give most of the credit in this game to the Vikings offensive coordinator. The usually aggressive Eagles defense was confused a great deal and couldn’t key in on anything the Vikings were doing.
Major downgrade for Chip Kelly and his playcalling. The team was able to rack up yards and points in garbage time, but was unable to establish rhythm. LeSean McCoy only had 8 carries for 38 yards in the contest. Nick Foles had 41 yards on 5 carries. I don’t care what the gameplan is, if Foles has more rushing yards than McCoy, the result probably will not be ideal.
The loss stings for sure, but it was hard to imagine this team was not going to trip up at some point. I expected at least one loss mixed in over the last three weeks, just not against this team. Next week, the Eagles return to Lincoln Financial Field to host a Bears team that, after shaking off some turnover struggles, sprinted past the Browns in a 38-31 win. Much like the Vikings, I expect the Bears to utilize the deep ball and take an aggressive approach to Billy Davis’ defense. It presents an entirely new challenge for a team that has been rolling well for so long now. They need to apply the same ’24-hour’ rule to losses as wins and shift their focus toward the next opponent. The team has a lot of work to do, but they did put themselves in a position to take the lead in this game. This loss doesn’t hurt quite as bad as the Joe Webb loss, because I honestly think the Vikings were the better team Sunday. Hopefully this is not a trend that makes up the final quarter of what has been a supremely entertaining season.