*PHILADELPHIA — *It’s hard to find consolation when one loss of any way, shape and form prevents a Super Bowl appearance.
Having a family member advance did nothing to console Eric Kendricks, whose brother, Mychal, will play in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 with the Eagles. Philadelphia defeated Minnesota 38-7 and will face New England.
“I want to be there. I’m a competitor,” Kendricks said. “I play this game to win. Period. I don’t care if he’s on the other team or not. I’m trying to win. I’m mad. I’m not happy for him.
“It’s crazy we’re in this position, with all of the things we’ve been through,” Eric said. “It’s cool, but I’m not happy for him. I wanted to win that game. They beat us fair and square.”
The Eagles answered an impressive opening Vikings drive that finished with a 25-yard touchdown from Case Keenum with 38 unanswered points.
The first score by Philadelphia occurred on a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
Eric said players kept believing that they’d be able to bounce back, but 7-all turned into 14-7 on an 11-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount early in the second quarter, followed by 21-7 after a 53-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Alshon Jeffery and 24-7 at halftime on a 38-yard field goal to end the second quarter.
A 41-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith on a flea flicker to open the second half made it 31-7, and Jeffery added a 5-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia converted 10-of-14 third downs (71 percent) against a unit that allowed a conversion rate of 25.2 in the regular season.
“They were good on third downs,” said Xavier Rhodes, who was sidelined because of injury when Foles hit Jeffery for 53. “Really just a terrible game on all sides of the field.”
Foles entered the game having struggled on deep passes, but the Eagles kept taking aggressive shots, and kept reaping rewards against a defense that consistently prevented big passes all season.
He finished 26-of-33 passing for 352 yards with three touchdowns, no turnovers and a passer rating of 141.4.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer gave credit to the Eagles offense and defense, and said there were decisions he’d like to have back.
“I could have called a lot better game, obviously,” Zimmer said. “Point the finger at me before you point it at the players.”
Asked if it was tougher since the Super Bowl will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer said, “We would love to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China, to be honest with you, but we didn’t play good enough today. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Zimmer continued. “They played great, good on defense, good on offense. Some of our strengths, they attacked on third downs. That was one of our strengths all year long, and they got after us there. It was one of those kinds of things. That probably had more effect on it than anything.”
*Hits kept coming *
Philadelphia was one of the best teams in the NFL at converting pressure into forced turnovers in 2017. That continued on Sunday.
Chris Long was able to hit Keenum as the quarterback was launching a pass toward Adam Thielen, forcing an underthrow that was picked off by Patrick Robison and returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
Keenum also suffered a fumble when rookie Derek Barnett hit him from behind to deny the Vikings points after Minnesota drove to the Philadelphia 16 and had a shot at cutting into a 14-7 lead.
The Eagles were credited by press box statisticians with eight quarterback hits.
“These [defensive] ends are good. This front is so good. I’ve got to step up and get away from the pass rush and be smarter,” Keenum said. “I thought we fought. You’ve got to give those guys credit. The Eagles are really good, the best defensive front we’ve faced all year for sure, and they’re solid on the back end, so they played awesome.
“They played absolutely unbelievable today, so this one stings a little bit,” Keenum added. “I feel bad about how close we were to bringing it back home for our fans. I feel bad for the fans that have been riding with us this whole time.”
Keenum finished 28 of 48 passing for 271 yards and a passer rating of 63.8.
Rare red zone woes
After enjoying success on offense and defense in the red zone consistently throughout 2017, the Vikings were 0-for-3, getting zero points on three trips inside the Eagles 20-yard line.
Philadelphia, however, was 2-for-2 when it moved the ball inside the Minnesota 20, a week after going 1-for-3 in a 15-10 win against the Falcons.
Zimmer said Vikings center Pat Elflein suffered a “significant” injury midway through the third quarter.
The Vikings accounted for the loss of the rookie standout by sliding right guard Joe Berger to center and bringing in Jeremiah Sirles.
There likely will be a time when Vikings players are able to reflect back on a season in which the Vikings won the second most regular-season games in franchise history (13), their second NFC North title in three seasons and the first playoff game in the history of U.S. Bank Stadium with an unforgettable Minneapolis Miracle.
The season that started 2-2 with losses of starting quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook included a run of eight consecutive victories.
But on Sunday, all of the season’s highs were overwhelmed by the low of being so close yet so far to football’s highest point.
“I’m going to take tonight and bottle it up and use the feeling tonight to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Keenum said.
“As far as looking back in perspective, I haven’t done much,” Keenum said. “I went around the locker room. The guys we have in there, it was an incredible ride with those guys. It really was. I can’t put it into words because this is stinging too much right now. It was an incredible season. It stinks that it has to end like this.”