They may not have the best defense in the NFL from a statistical standpoint, but the Eagles had the No. 1 defense where it mattered most: at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship Game.
The Vikings showed up with the league's top-ranked defense both in terms of total yards and scoring, and all of the hoopla that comes with the distinction. They left town having snapped a streak of four straight seasons with a No. 1 defense advancing to the Super Bowl after being upstaged by the Eagles, 38-7.
"All week, we just kept hearing everybody say (the Vikings) were the No. 1 defense, but I guess everybody forgot they were coming to Philadelphia," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said postgame. "I know one thing: In this house, we're the No. 1 defense, and it's going to stay that way."
The Eagles are no slouches defensively, finishing the regular season fourth in total yards and scoring. The difference is that they actually looked the part on Sunday.
In fact, the Eagles' D has only been getting stingier down the stretch, limiting their last four opponents to a paltry 8.25 points per game going back to Week 16. Yet, the words "No. 1" kept coming up in reference to the Vikings, and the idea they were the superior unit — though technically accurate — clearly did not sit well with this group.
"From the front to the back end, we're loaded," Bradham said. "If nobody is going to respect us, we're going to find a way to take it."
The Eagles continue to be fueled by this idea they're underdogs or underappreciated, riding the rallying cry all the way to the big game.
"To me, it's a great defense," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of his own group. "One of the best, if not the top defenses in the league. They proved it again tonight.
"Sometimes they don't get enough credit, but you know what? Those guys in that dressing room, they know. They understand. We know as coaches."
Not convinced? Just ask Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who played arguably his worst game of the season with the conference championship on the line.
"The Eagles are really good," Keenum said. "One of the best fronts we've faced all year, for sure, and they were solid in the back end. They played awesome. They played absolutely unbelievable today."
Keenum led the Vikings straight down the field on the game's opening possession, a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an easy 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. For 4 minutes and 46 seconds, the Eagles missed tackles, blew assignments and generally looked overmatched.
It was difficult to imagine at the time the Vikings being held scoreless for the final 55-plus minutes.
"When they went up seven, we were like, 'Hey, they gave us their best shot,'" defensive end Brandon Graham said. "'We just have to make the plays and stay focused,' and that's all we did."
The Vikings committed a turnover or went three-and-out on their next four possessions, while Keenum finished with a season-low 63.8 passer rating.
"People didn't give us a chance," Graham said. "It's mind-boggling to me."
Many spectators have been critical of the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes since Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Talk about No. 1's — despite being the top playoff seed in the NFC, the Eagles were installed as underdogs in both matchups, and quite a few pundits and fans were expecting an early exit for this team.
But those folks either forgot or overlooked this Eagles defense, which has been great all season and firing on all cylinders for the last month. Let this win over the Vikings be a reminder.
"A lot has been said about this team, about what people's perception of us is and how far they think we can go," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "This was definitely one of those games where we wanted to keep our foot on the pedal for as long as we could do it and send everybody a message of who we are."
The question is, will the Eagles' message be heard this time around?