PHILADELPHIA –The Vikings scored to start off the NFC Championship game, but things didn't go their way from that point.
A trio of turnovers and handful of missed opportunities proved unrecoverable by Minnesota's offense in a 38-7 loss.
Up 7-0 after a Case Keenum-to-Kyle Rudolph touchdown, Minnesota started its second drive from its own 29. The Vikings converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard reception by Stefon Diggs, but two plays later on third-and-8, Keenum was hit by Chris Long as he released the ball, and the pass was intercepted by cornerback Patrick Robinson.
Vikings tackle Rashod Hill rehashed the turnover following the game.
"I was focused on [Brandon] Graham all week. I focused a little on Long but knew he was going to come in on third down. He touched Case and it was an interception," Hill said. "I'm going to go back and look at it; I thought I pushed him out of the way. It's a learning experience, and I hated that it happened. It really eats me up inside."
Adam Thielen, the intended receiver on the play, said that he saw the ball released strangely after Long got a hand on Keenum.
"I don't know exactly, I just saw it come out kind of funky," Thielen said. "At that point, I was just trying to run down as fast as I could to try to stop him."
Robinson, however, returned the pick 50 yards for an Eagles touchdown to even the score at 7.
Keenum, who finished 28-of-48 passing for 271 yards and a passer rating of 63.8, said they didn't make the plays necessary to win the game.
"It's one of those things we preached coming in – turnovers," Keenum said. "They took care of the football, and we didn't. We were still in at [after the first interception], but we couldn't execute in the critical situations we needed to convert third downs or score in the red zone.
From there, Minnesota seemed unable to find its footing. But Stefon Diggs said he didn't believe it was the initial turnover that created the landslide; rather, it was a lack of executing overall.
"[The interception] wasn't really the problem – we drove down the field. We just didn't do the things we needed to do to score," Diggs said. "We got in the red zone, we drove the ball down the field – it's not like we had a problem with it, we just didn't get any points out of it."
The Vikings next two offensive series went three-and-out. Meanwhile, the Eagles scored again to extend their lead.
Midway through the second quarter, the Vikings gained some ground with a 22-yard reception by Stefon Diggs for a first down at the Minnesota 39. They continued to drive down the field with help from a four-yard rush by Jarius Wright, another catch by Diggs and a combination of short gains on the ground and through the air by Jerick McKinnon.
But on third-and-5 from the Philadelphia 16 and with an opportunity to tie the game, Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett found a clear path to Keenum and recorded a strip sack. Long again came up with a big play for Philadelphia when he recovered the fumble.
The second turnover of the night enabled the Eagles to once again find the end zone, and they took a two-score lead. Back-to-back incomplete passes by Keenum on second and third downs stalled a drive, and Minnesota was forced to punt the ball back to Philadelphia with 29 seconds left. The Eagles piled on the Vikings, adding a 38-yard field goal to close out the half.
"Even when we came out of the half, we had a mindset, you know, to come out – the defense to handle their business, do whatever they've gotta do, but when we get the ball, we need to go get some points. We need to score," Diggs said. "And we didn't, long story short … We tried the best, we did what we could to try to get back in the game, but it just wasn't clicking."
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur also added after the game: "I think we moved the ball. But we had two interceptions and we had the fumble down in the red zone, [and] that takes points off the board."
The Vikings continued to search for a way to come back, but by early in the third quarter they were fighting against a 24-point deficit.
Things seemed to look up on Minnesota's first offensive series of the second half. Completions of 13 and 11 yards to Jerick McKinnon and a 33-yard nab by Wright enabled the Vikings to move the ball, but there were also six incomplete passes on the drive. The final incompletion was initially ruled a touchdown catch by Thielen, offering a glimmer of hope, but the officials' review determined that the ball had hit the ground.
"All I can talk about is individually, I didn't play well enough," Thielen said. "Us as receivers, we put a lot on us, and we know we have to make plays to help this team win, and I didn't do that personally. And it's obviously frustrating to get whooped like that in a game like this.
"It's frustrating because of all the work we put in, how we played and how well we played up to this point," Thielen added. "To really not give ourselves a chance in this game, it's obviously extremely frustrating. I put a lot on myself – you've gotta make more plays, and I have to put myself in better situations."
The third turnover occurred late in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings tried desperately to put points on the board.
Inside six minutes and on second-and-10 from the Eagles 15, Keenum's pass was intercepted by Corey Graham, who effectively snuffed the Vikings last hopes to increase their point total.
McKinnon was arguably the most productive Viking on offense. The running back finished the game with 40 yards on 10 carries, and he also led the team in receiving with 86 yards through the air.
"I left it all out there for my teammates, point blank," McKinnon said. "From OTAs 'til now, I did everything in my power to make plays for the team. I gave it my all. This is a tough loss, but somebody has to win and somebody has to lose."
Overall, the Vikings were 6-of-13 on third downs and were unsuccessful on three trips inside the red zone.
"Obviously, they made the plays. I mean, they're a really good defense, they're a great team, and their players made plays – and ours didn't," Thielen said. "So that's the moral of the story, and this one's going to hurt for us for a long time. But it's something that we need to take into next year."
When players were asked in the locker room if there was room to reflect on a season successful thus far, most emphasized that the sting of losing an NFC title is too great at the moment.
"We won a lot of games, but you have to be able to take a loss just like you take a win," McKinnon added. "I hope it pushes everybody to be better."