Case Keenum

Underdog, huh? Eagles headed to Super Bowl

Underdog, huh? Eagles headed to Super Bowl

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The Eagles have been dead for weeks, right? The only problem is that no one ever told them. 

They're more alive than ever. 

And now, without their franchise quarterback, their Hall of Fame left tackle, their starting middle linebacker, their most dynamic offensive weapon, their special teams captain and their original kicker, the Eagles did it again. 

As improbable as it sounds … the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. 

The Birds got off to a rough start, but clamped down and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7, at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in the NFC Championship Game (see Roob's observations). They'll see the Patriots in Minnesota in two weeks for Super Bowl LII (see story).  

The fourth quarter became a party as fans were doing the Skol chant — they changed it to "Foles" — mockingly and the entire Eagles' sideline danced along to a Meek Mill song. 

This is the Eagles' first trip back to the Super Bowl since the 2004 season, when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. 

They'll get another crack at Tom Brady and the Patriots, who beat the Jaguars, 24-20, earlier in the day. The Patriots won the game but didn't look invincible. They needed to stage a late comeback to take down the Jaguars. 

Nick Foles claimed he was calm and confident all week and he certainly looked like it in the NFC Championship Game. Sure, the play-calling helped, but Foles had a simply incredible game. He played loose and demolished the best defense in the NFL (see story).

Foles turned in an all-time performance. He completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had a passer rating of 141.4. 

With the loss, the Vikings missed a chance to become the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl it's hosting. Oh well. 

The Eagles actually got off to a terrible start Sunday. All three phases chipped in. First, the defense gave up a touchdown drive to start the game. Then the offense missed chances and had to punt. Then, they got a fair catch interference call on special teams. 

Things were going badly until that Patrick Robinson pick-six. Chris Long forced the pressure and during the 50-yard return, the Linc got so loud the press box shook. 

After last week's divisional round win over the Falcons, head coach Doug Pederson called another masterful game (see story). He put on a clinic against the Vikings, pushing all the right buttons as the Eagles began to push around the NFL's best defense (see story).

Turning point
Long turned that corner and affected Case Keenum's throw enough to allow the ball to hang in the air for Robinson. After Robinson picked off the pass, he took it 50 yards to the house and momentum had officially swung the other way (see story).

Key stat
The Eagles' 38 points are their second most in playoff history and their margin of victory (31 points) is the biggest in franchise history. 

The 38 points the Eagles scored are the most the Vikings have allowed all season. They had allowed 34 in their last three games combined. 

Offensive stud
For all the questions about Foles over the last few weeks, he answered them Sunday. Foles was incredible. He got into a rhythm early and is now leading the Eagles into the Super Bowl (see report card)

Offensive dud
This was about to go to Torrey Smith for dropping a deep pass early, but he totally redeemed himself when he caught that deep touchdown pass on the flea flicker. 

Defensive stud
Long is 32 years old, but he isn't playing like it. He's rejuvenated and made some huge plays Sunday. None were bigger than the one that led to Robinson's pick-six. 

Defensive dud
Najee Goode gave up that early touchdown to Kyle Rudolph that gave the Vikings an early lead. It looked like he didn't know what was going on. 

Key plays 
• Foles threw his third touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to cap off a 92-yard drive and give the Eagles a 38-7 lead. 

• On 4th-and-goal in the third quarter, it looked like Adam Thielen caught a ball in the end zone, but the replay showed it clearly hit the ground. The Vikings turned the ball over on downs. 

• Pederson dialed up a flea flicker on his first drive of the second half and it worked perfectly. Corey Clement took the handoff, tossed it back to Foles, who hit Smith down the field for a 41-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 31-7 lead. 

• The Eagles got the ball back with just 29 seconds in the half, but Pederson didn't play it scared. Instead, the Eagles attacked and were able to get down the field and kick a 38-yarder to take a 24-7 lead into the locker room. 

• On 3rd-and-10 from their own 47-yard line with under two minutes left in the first half, Foles avoided pressure and threw a 53-yard bomb for a touchdown to Alshon Jeffery to give the Eagles a 21-7 lead. 

• In the second quarter, the Vikings took the ball from their own 15-yard line and got all the way down to the Eagles' 16 before rookie Derek Barnett came around the left tackle and stripped the ball from Keenum. The Vikings' six-minute drive didn't get them any points. 

• Jim Schwartz dialed up a safety blitz on 3rd-and-2 and Malcolm Jenkins came free to force a quick throw from Keenum, who seemed bothered by the pressure. 

• LeGarrette Blount ran over safety Andrew Sendejo on an 11-yard run to get into the end zone early in the second quarter. That gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead. Just before that, Pederson dialed up a little quick pass to Zach Ertz on 3rd-and-short to convert. The Blount touchdown capped off a 75-yard drive. 

• Long got to Keenum to provide pressure and alter his throw that hung up in the air. Robinson picked it off and had an incredible return of 50 yards for a pick-six to tie the game at 7-7. It was the second-longest pick-six in Eagles postseason history. 

• On the Eagles' first drive, Smith dropped a ball he should have had deep and then Trey Burton couldn't get his feet down on a key third-down pass. For some reason, Burton left his feet and jumped to make the catch. 

• Keenum hit Rudolph for a 25-yard touchdown to cap the opening drive of the game. Goode, starting in place of Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), looked lost before the play and didn't seem ready. Rudolph blew past him and was wide open for a touchdown.

Injuries
Linebacker Ellerbe (hamstring) was inactive after being listed as questionable coming into the weekend. Ellerbe was questionable last week, too, but was able to play against the Falcons. Goode started in his place Sunday. 

Up next
The Eagles are heading to Minnesota. They'll face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in two weeks. 

Don't get hung up on Keenum, Vikings pose daunting task for Eagles

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Don't get hung up on Keenum, Vikings pose daunting task for Eagles

Eagles-Vikings
6:40 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +3

The Eagles are hoping the clock doesn’t strike midnight on their Cinderella story just as they’ve arrived at the doorstep to the Super Bowl.

Few expected the Eagles to be playing the Vikings for the NFC Championship, let alone hosting the game at Lincoln Financial Field. Few thought they would still have a shot at the big game once Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Yet, here they are, one win away from a trip to Minneapolis in two weeks.

It will take a tremendous effort to beat the Vikings, who matched the Eagles' win total in 2017 with 13, and were the No. 2 seed to the Eagles’ No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But should they manage to pull this one off, it will make for one of the most unlikely celebrations in franchise history.

Better than the Falcons in every way
Confidence is sky high after the Eagles dispatched the reigning conference champions in the divisional round, but make no mistake — the Vikings present a much bigger challenge than the Falcons.

That might seem obvious to some. After all, the Vikings won three more games this season. Yet, whether it’s because they were in the Super Bowl last year or the perception they have more star power, particularly under center, others view the Falcons as a superior foe. Put another way, many fans were hoping the Eagles would draw the Vikings in the NFC Championship.

Be careful what you wish for.

Clearly, the Vikings are much stronger defensively. With the No. 1 total and scoring defense, No. 1 third-down defense, and No. 2 run and pass defenses in the NFL, just moving the football, let alone scoring, could prove difficult for the Eagles. Minnesota limited five of its last seven opponents to 10 points or fewer.

Even offensively speaking, the Vikings are better. The vaunted Falcons offense that was so scary in 2016 finished 15th in scoring this season and 23rd in the red zone. Minnesota ranked 10th and ninth, respectively.

Don’t underestimate the Vikings simply because they lack the name recognition of All-Pro players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Minnesota is here for a reason, just like the Eagles.

Don’t get hung up on Case Keenum
I lost count of the number of times I heard a sentence begin, “If you would’ve told me only Case Keenum stood between the Eagles and the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season.” Yeah, nobody expected it, but there are two problems with that statement.

First of all, Keenum has played well all season. The journeyman signal caller finished second in the NFL with a 67.6 completion percentage, fourth with 1.5 interception percentage, and seventh with a 98.3 passer rating. He didn’t necessarily throw for a ton of yards or touchdowns but played efficient football while minimizing turnovers and sacks. Keenum or not, the Vikings’ offense is dangerous.

Second, and perhaps more pertinent, is the Vikings could say the same about Nick Foles. It’s not like the Eagles will be taking the field with Wentz. They’re in the exact same boat.

It’s easy to denigrate Keenum, who prior to this season had a 9-15 record as a starter. The reality is he’s playing like a viable starter, even flashed franchise quarterback potential. If you’re suggesting the Eagles’ road is easy due to who’s under center for the Vikings, you might be overlooking a decent player, not to mention the obvious comparison to Foles.

A classic formula
Speaking of Wentz, so much time has passed since he was lost for the season, one can almost forget the Eagles looked like a different team with No. 11 in the lineup. The offense was far more capable of striking quickly and scoring in bunches, racking up 30 points or more in eight of his 13 starts this season.

Since then, the Eagles have taken on somewhat of a new identity, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now, they’re built on running the football and playing stingy defense, a formula that’s been delivering Super Bowl championships successfully since the big game’s inception.

The defense has been good all season, finishing fourth in total yards and scoring, but often took a back seat to Wentz’s brilliance. Likewise, the ground attack was a major aspect of the Eagles' offense all season, even if it maybe lacked the sizzle Wentz would provide on a weekly basis.

Now, as the Eagles get set to host the Vikings in the conference championship, this is very much the defense’s team, while the offense must lean on the running game. Chances are good that win or lose, the outcome is going to come down to how the Eagles perform in those two aspects.

The unique friendship behind Foles vs. Keenum

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USA Today Images

The unique friendship behind Foles vs. Keenum

Let's talk about conference championship game quarterback matchups over the years.
 
Bradshaw vs. Stabler.
 
Theismann vs Montana.
 
Elway vs. Kosar.
 
Marino-Kelly. Young-Aikman. McNabb-Warner. Brady-Peyton. Favre-Eli. Wilson-Rodgers. Brady-Flacco. Foles-Keenum.
 
Foles-Keenum?
 
It is one of the stranger matchups in NFL playoff history, and the fact that Nick Foles and Case Keenum are close friends and former teammates with the Rams and began the season as backups only adds to the uniqueness of the situation.
 
"I know this is what all of you guys predicted back in the day, a Foles vs. Keenum NFC Championship," Keenum said. "So good job to all of you guys who predicted that."
 
Foles and Keenum are both six-year pros who are with their third NFL team. Both are or were teammates of Sam Bradford. Both survived playing for Jeff Fisher. Both just won their first career playoff game over the weekend.
 
And one of them will start in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis in two weeks.
 
"I think the big thing (is) you’ve just always got to believe, and you always have to prepare," Foles said. "I know being around Case, I know he does an amazing job preparing and working and just being a great team player.
 
"Sometimes things happen where unfortunately guys get injured, and you have to step in and it's your job to lead the team."
 
The parallels between Keenum and Foles are crazy.
 
Keenum was 0-8 as a rookie with Houston but is 20-10 as a starter since. He has 46 career touchdowns and 27 interceptions, has completed 62 percent of his passes and has an 86.0 passer rating.
 
Foles was 1-5 as a rookie with the Eagles but is 21-12 as a starter since. He has 61 career touchdowns and 29 interceptions, has completed 60 percent of his career passes and has an 87.4 passer rating.
 
They were teammates in 2015 with the Rams before Foles spent a year backing up Alex Smith in Kansas City and then returned to the Eagles to back up Carson Wentz. Keenum, after one more year with the Rams, signed with the Vikings to back up Bradford.
 
Heck, they're almost the same person.
 
They meet at 6:40 p.m. Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc.
 
"First of all, Nick is a great guy," Keenum said. "One of my best friends. A really, really solid guy. Great faith, great family. My wife and his wife are great friends. His entire family are good people.
 
"Great football player. Prepares well, extremely talented, big arm and he’s really, really athletic, too. I know he’s got a lot of confidence, and I’m looking forward to playing against him."
 
Foles said he and Keenum have been in touch during the season, comparing notes on common opponents and exchanging tips on various defenses.
 
This is why sports are so great.
 
Two best friends who were forgotten backups on a lousy 7-9 Rams team two years ago are now facing each other for a berth in the Super Bowl.
 
"It's pretty wild, absolutely," Foles said. "We were on the same team not too many years ago.
 
"You know, he's really done an amazing job," Foles said. "It doesn't surprise me. Case's success and the way he plays doesn't surprise me because him and I were together and we prepared together. We were around each other every day.
 
"But I think the big message there is no matter what happens, you've just got to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard and just never give up."