Minnesota Vikings

Foles, Eagles fly into Super Bowl, rout Vikings 38-7

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Foles, Eagles fly into Super Bowl, rout Vikings 38-7

PHILADELPHIA -- With one quarter remaining, Eagles players on the field and sideline already were dancing.

A bit later, after their stunning and resounding 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings earned them the NFC championship, they listened as nearly 70,000 made the Linc shake with "Fly Eagles Fly."

Hey Philly, you're in the Super Bowl.

"It was electric. The fans are awesome," All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson said.

"We're going there to prove we belong," added Brandon Graham of the meeting with the AFC champion Patriots in two weeks.

And maybe it's time for everyone to put aside Carson Wentz's injury. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first NFL title since 1960.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place last season to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

"I just think you've got to keep going at it," Foles said. "And we all believe in each other. I'm blessed to have amazing teammates, amazing coaches. Everyone here that's a part of the Philadelphia Eagles organization is first class."

Foles' best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

"I'm so happy for Nick and the offense," said coach Doug Pederson, "and for Nick, everything he's been through and battled, he stayed the course and we all believed in him."

Foles was helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson. Philadelphia ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium.

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

"I'm so proud of our players," team owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "The resilience this group of men has is unequaled."

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Jake Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

"Credit to Philadelphia, they got after us pretty good tonight and we didn't do enough good things," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

"I'm still proud of my football team with the way they worked all year. The way they went about their business. The way they competed all year and tonight we didn't get it done."

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Zach Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

STATS

Jeffery caught TD passes of 53 and 5 yards and had five receptions for 85 yards. Ertz was free seemingly all night and finished with eight catches for 93 yards. Torrey Smith had a 41-yard TD catch against double coverage in the third period.

Keenum finished 28 of 48 for 271 yards, with two picks, a lost fumble and the TD throw to Rudolph. The Vikings' previously staunch defense yielded 456 yards.

NEXT UP

Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. The Patriots are a 5- to 6-point favorite.

Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

"We would've loved to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China," Zimmer said.

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Patriots don't need to apologize for anything

Patriots don't need to apologize for anything

When the Steel Curtain Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl of the ‘70s, which quarterbacks did they go through to do it?

How about Joe Montana and the Niners when San Fran began its dynasty back in 1981? 

Or the Steve Young Niners in 1994 when San Fran won its last?

MORE PATRIOTS

Yeah, most wouldn’t remember. It gets lost in the fog of time. And, really, what does it matter that it was Bob Griese, Dan Pastorini and Vince Ferragamo for the Steelers. Or Scott Brunner, Danny White and Ken Anderson for Montana and the Niners. Or Erik Kramer, Troy Aikman and Stan Humphries for the ‘90s Niners. 

Play golf long enough, you’ll hear the phrase, “Nobody asks, ‘How?’ They ask, ‘How many?’"

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be completely forgotten in just a few years that the last four quarterbacks standing in the 2017 playoffs were Tom Brady, Case Keenum, Nick Foles and Blake Bortles.

Well, maybe not completely. But mostly. 

In winning five Lombardis, the Patriots have dealt with their would-be dynasties (Rams and Seahawks),  the MVPs  (Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Steve McNair, LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Ryan) and a squadron of present and future Hall of Famers. 

Are they supposed to wear a black armband to commemorate the AFC teams that couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain? A helmet decal in memoriam of the quarterbacks who couldn’t stay healthy? A moment of silence for all the brain-dead coaching decisions that came before?

Is it on them to apologize for the “tomato canzzzz” they’ve knocked down over the years? Of course not. It’s not their fault they’ve dominated the 2000s any more than it’s the hallowed Celtics fault for dominating a six-team NBA. 

If title No. 6 comes for Tom Brady against forgettable competition, that doesn’t leave any more smear on his legacy than it would if people ever noticed that Bill Russell shot 44 percent from the field and 56 percent from the line over his career.

Great is great. No need to apologize for the ineptitude of those around you. 

There are those who walk among us thinking the Patriots should do that. They are the ones who sit in their darkened dens watching black-and-white highlights of the Impossible Dream Red Sox, clutching a 1967 Red Sox pennant in one hand, a Narragansett in the other, face illuminated by the candles flickering from their shrine to Yaz. 

Those Red Sox supposedly changed everything by losing in the World Series. Seven games, though. It took seven games. So for decades, paeans were penned for them. Captain Carl didn’t need pliability and hydration, he was huffing on heaters in the clubhouse. Man’s man. Owner Tom Yawkey didn’t bar certain reporters from Super Bowl breakfasts. Dick Williams engaged with the media, dammit!

Robert Kraft may be more progressive than Yawkey in terms of race relations and Belichick has not been spotted nude on a hotel balcony as Williams was. Still, it’s worth noting that Brady, Kraft and Belichick ought to be ashamed of themselves for picking on the rest of the NFL like this. The ’67 Sox had the grace to lose. Remember that. 

Anyway, since the 2017 Patriots will not be teleporting their 53 to another, more competitive season, let’s look at this football Leviathan in Foxboro. 

Because, after speed-bumping the Titans (#AsExpected), what’s overlooked is that Patriots are not that overwhelming. 

Their best defensive player and most reliable skill position player – Donta Hightower and Julian Edelman – are long, long gone. The offense revolves around two of the best that have ever played their positions – Brady and Rob Gronkowski – a castoff nobody else in the league wanted (Dion Lewis), a wiry, aging rabid ferret at wide receiver that everyone hated when he got here (Danny Amendola), and another wide receiver that everyone seems to hate now (Brandin Cooks). 

Defensively, the glue-guy in their front-seven is Kyle Van Noy. The Lions didn’t have any further use for Van Noy when they traded him in 2016. They rely defensively on Elandon Roberts – a very short NFL linebacker – and a chunk of their eight sacks were recorded by guys named Marquis Flowers, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise. Do you know what Lawrence Guy looks like? No, you do not. Don’t lie. 

The guys on injured reserve aside from Hightower and Edelman include wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, valuable young run-stopper Vincent Valentine, Marcus Cannon (a very good right tackle), a useful linebacker (Shea McClellin), a great special teams player (Nate Ebner) and a rookie who looked like he might help with pass rush right away (Derek Rivers). Toss in Cyrus Jones too for the hell of it. 

Now the Patriots will face Jacksonville – which may have finally stuck a fork in the Roethlisberger-Tomlin Era Steelers – on Saturday night. 

How desperate are self-obsessed Patriots fans and media to find a boogeyman to keep them awake at night?

They believe that 71-year-old Tom Coughlin – who isn’t even the damn coach but is a Jaguars executive – is reason to sleep with the lights on. 

He’s not. And neither is Blake Bortles or Leonard Fournette. 

The complement of defensive talent is easily the best the Patriots have seen this season. But they are young and dumb. They are going to attack and pursue and there will be plays when Tom Brady looks completely mortal. Which in itself is a cause for great concern, as we’ve seen. But the Brady and Josh McDaniels will hoist the Jags on their own petard and use their speed and youth against them (even though they don’t have near the offensive talent Pittsburgh does). 

The chortling will begin if/when the confetti flies in Foxboro next week. The Patriots are proud of beating Mariota and Bortles…LOL!!! Joe Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls!!!! They should be embarrassed!

The fine print might tell a different story. But nobody reads the fine print anymore. So the Patriots will probably have to settle for a “Sorry, not sorry” and begin planning for Minny.

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Vikings shock Saints with miraculous last-second touchdown, advance to NFC championship game

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Vikings shock Saints with miraculous last-second touchdown, advance to NFC championship game

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Case Keenum convened the Minnesota huddle with 10 seconds left, the situation staring down the Vikings was as simple as it was daunting.

With the go-ahead field goal by the New Orleans Saints that silenced this deafening stadium still fresh in the air, the Vikings were well beyond any moment of anxiety. All that was left for Keenum to do on that last snap was to throw the ball up like he used to do in his Texas backyards and hope for the best.

Keenum completed his last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game's final play to Stefon Diggs, who slithered away from the Saints for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory and a spot in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

"At that point, I'm just a kid throwing a football to another big kid," Keenum said with a smile, "and he just runs and scores."

One more win, against the Eagles, and the Vikings will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home turf. Instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they're in a win-and-go-home situation.

"It never ends that way," Diggs said. "Usually, it's reality. It's life. So things go and you walk home and worry it about tomorrow."

Instead, Drew Brees and the Saints were the ones trudging off the field in defeat.

"We're still a bit shell-shocked after what happened there at the end," said Brees, who steered the Saints in position for Wil Lutz's 43-yard kick with 25 seconds remaining that punctuating a forceful rally from a 17-point deficit that stood until 1:16 was left in the third quarter.

The field goal was set up by a fourth-and-10 completion by Brees to Willie Snead for 13 yards to the Minnesota 33 with 40 seconds left. Brees connected with Michael Thomas for two of his three touchdown passes in a span of 3:09 that spilled into the fourth quarter. The second score was set up at the Minnesota 40 by an interception by Marcus Williams, when an off-balance throw into traffic by Keenum served as his one costly moment of recklessness, a "bonehead play," as he put it.

Keenum settled back in. He guided the Vikings to two more field goals by Kai Forbath, including a 53-yarder with 1:29 left that was his third of the game against his former team and gave them their lead back after a blocked punt by George Johnson had set up the Saints for a touchdown pass by Brees to Alvin Kamara.

Then came the play that put Keenum and Diggs in permanent rotation on the NFL's all-time highlight reels.

"We knew there was still a possibility, still some hope," Keenum said.

This wasn't quite Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 playoffs, but these Vikings are on some kind of special path after turning to Keenum in the second game of the season after original starter Sam Bradford was sidelined by a knee injury.

The Vikings were out of timeouts and nearly out of options when Keenum dropped back from his 39 and threw high into a crowd. Diggs jumped in front of Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath Diggs during an ill-fated attempt at making a low tackle.

Devastatingly for the Saints, nobody was behind him in the secondary, as Diggs made sure to note right before he made the break on his route during the play the Vikings, believe it or not, call "Seven Heaven."

Diggs kept his balance as he landed, kept his feet in bounds and kept on running untouched into the end zone as the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted with euphoria. Keenum raced around the field, looking for anyone to hug.

"I'm shocked. I don't know what else to say. This is the first time ever I'm out of words," Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said.

Keenum, the undrafted and undersized all-time leading passer in NCAA history who was making his first career playoff start and has long looked up to Brees, was having a hard time finding the words to describe the experience. He finished with 318 yards, going 25 for 40, with Diggs catching 137 yards on six catches.

"A heck of a game, wasn't it?" head coach Mike Zimmer said. "And the good guys won."

Diggs was still in full uniform when he took the podium for his postgame interview, the ball from the winning catch resting safely in front of him on the lectern.

"It's plays like this that you dream about your whole life," he said, "and it finally happens."

PICKED OFF

Brees saw his 13th career postseason game end in a crushing final moment, his 25-for-40 performance for 294 yards tainted a bit by two interceptions before halftime. One came on a leaping grab by safety Andrew Sendejo , the other off a tip by Griffen that landed in Anthony Barr's arms at the Minnesota 10-yard line midway through the third quarter.

FIRST-HALF FORCE

The Vikings came roaring out of their first-round bye, forcing punts by the Saints on their first three possessions and moving 55 yards in eight plays for a touchdown run by Jerick McKinnon on their first drive. Aided by two pass interference calls on Ken Crawley for 54 yards, the Vikings reached the 1-yard line before settling for a short field goal on the next possession. They pushed the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter when Latavius Murray plowed in from the 1-yard line.

"The Vikings had a phenomenal game plan," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said.

The only other time the Saints went scoreless in the first half of a postseason game was five years ago. They fell behind 16-0 at Seattle in the divisional round and lost 23-15 to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

SENDEJO DOWN

The first touchdown to Thomas came one play after he leveled Sendejo with a jarring blindside block, sending Sendejo to the sideline for concussion evaluation and reigniting the crowd when the flag that was initially thrown was waved off.

UP NEXT

Saints: head home with a 1-5 record on the road in the playoffs under Payton, with a promising group of young players but some uncertainty around how much longer Brees, who will turn 39 on Monday, will stick around.

"I'm more toward the end of my career than I am at the beginning, I know that," Brees said. "That's all I'll divulge."

Vikings: move on to Philadelphia for the 10th championship game appearance in franchise history, the fifth in the last 30 years. They won the first four, losing in the Super Bowl each time.

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