PHILADELPHIA — Nobody saw this coming.
After posting one of the best defensive seasons in franchise history to stake their claim as the league's top unit, the Vikings defense sputtered Sunday as Minnesota's season come to an end in the NFC Championship.
With a Super Bowl berth on the line, the Vikings surrendered 456 yards and gave up 38 points in Philadelphia.
Those were season highs for a unit that led the NFL in points allowed per game (15.8) and yards allowed per game (275.9).
"Getting to the NFC Championship wasn't our goal," said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. "Anytime you lose the last game of the season, it hurts."
Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "They beat us fair and square today."
Perhaps the most surprising turn of events Sunday was that the Vikings historic third-down defense couldn't keep the Eagles offense from moving the chains time and time again.
Minnesota finished the regular season with the league's top-ranked third-down defense at 25.2 percent, the best mark in NFL history (since the statistic began being tracked in 1991).
The unit, which had four games in which they allowed just a single third-down conversion, limited the Saints to just two of nine conversions in the Divisional round.
But against a diverse and deceptive Philadelphia offense, the Vikings had their worst showing of the season as the Eagles converted a whopping 10 of 14 times on third down.
"We weren't good on third down, and we'd been great on that all year," Robison said. "There were a lot of areas we weren't good at. We just got whupped."
Added Vikings Head Coach Zimmer: "They made some good throws and had some good concepts and beat some of our guys. Most of the things they ran we practiced. They ran them better than we covered them."
Said Kendricks: "They made plays. I was a part of it. They made plays on third down, period."
The Vikings were also burned by plenty of big plays in Philadelphia.
Minnesota gave up 16 plays of 10 or more yards, including a trio of touchdowns by the Eagles. Philadelphia had four plays that went for 35 yards or longer.
Philadelphia scored on an 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to take a lead the Eagles wouldn't relinquish.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles padded the lead as he connected with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for a 53-yard score on broken play with just over a minute left before halftime.
Foles then found wide receiver Torrey Smith on a 41-yard touchdown pass on which the Eagles called a flea-flicker and fooled the Minnesota defense.
The Vikings had allowed three touchdowns of 40-plus yards all season.
"From watching film, we thought they weren't going to go deep too much," said Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. "They did, but no matter what, we still have to go out there and play.
"They were going to try something different, and it worked, we just have to cover better in the secondary," Rhodes added. "There was a lot we did wrong."
Added Zimmer: "They were trying to be aggressive tonight. They executed better than we did."
The Vikings were also hit by injuries as safety Andrew Sendejo, linebacker Anthony Barr — and center Pat Elflein — did not finish the game due to injuries.
"I'm still proud of this football team," Zimmer said. "They overcame a lot of things. They fought, competed, prepared, studied … sometimes things like this happen."
Added Robison: "It's mixed emotions right now. It hurts, I'm just sad we let our fans down. I know they were riding on a high, and we were, too. But we just didn't get it done."