Vikings hang on to defeat Eagles 23-21 in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA The Vikings position in the offseason, unique as it was, forced them to hire a new offensive coordinator and make a decision on their starting quarterback after a 13-3 season.
Theyd played well enough to reach the NFC Championship Game and help offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur get the Giants head coaching job in the process but werent confident enough in Case Keenums long-term reliability to make him their long-term QB after hed taken them to the brink of the Super Bowl.
And so, after a 38-7 loss in the NFC title game to the Eagles, the Vikings went with their boldest solutions: They flew to Philadelphia on the day of the Eagles Super Bowl parade, hiring quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to be their next coordinator, and bid farewell to Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, setting their sights on Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, even though landing him would require a fully-guaranteed $84 million contract.
The degree to which Sundays rematch with the Eagles was any kind of a litmus test for the Vikings was debatable, but the importance of ending a three-game winless streak was not. And in a nationally-televised game that presented the Vikings with a chance to reassert themselves before a stretch of three home games in four weeks, their biggest offseason additions delivered.
Rather than trying to pound the ball into the Eagles top-ranked run defense, DeFilippo dialed up a handful of creative perimeter runs to give the Vikings some productivity on the ground, while trusting Cousins to do the rest. The quarterback did, completing 30 of his 37 passes for 301 yards under intense pressure and posting a passer rating of more than 100 for the fifth time in as many career games at Lincoln Financial Field, as the Vikings survived a late Eagles comeback to win 23-21.
The victory moved the Vikings to 2-2-1, tying them for second in the NFC North with the Packers. Their defense, which forced its first two turnovers since Week 1, got a 64-yard fumble return from Linval Joseph for the first touchdown of the day.
Minnesota came into Sundays game with the leagues 32nd-ranked run game. When asked about the importance of establishing balance during his Thursday press conference, DeFilippo outlined a philosophy that made it clear balance is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.
I feel like I did my job as a play caller as an offensive coordinator if our best players were the ones, our playmakers, were the ones that touched the ball in space and gave them a chance to help our team win, DeFilippo said Thursday. We all know who those players are. We dont need to name them. If those guys are targeted, catches, our time of possession is still good, were efficient in the red zone, were efficient on third down then at least we gave our team a chance for success. It doesnt mean we won, but we gave our team a chance for success.
The Eagles forced their first three-and-out of the day at the end of the third quarter, and Wentz orchestrated a 10-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Wendell Smallwood on a wheel route past Eric Kendricks. Rather than opting for an extra point that would have pulled the Eagles within seven, coach Doug Pederson decided to go for two, and Smallwood slipped around a tackle attempt from Andrew Sendejo after taking a pitch from Wentz for the conversion.
On the next drive, the Vikings first turnover of the day nearly invited disaster.
Cousins swing pass for Roc Thomas with 10:03 left went backward, and when Thomas couldnt corral it, the Eagles Rasul Douglas fell on it, giving Philadelphia the ball on the Vikings 30-yard line with a chance to take the lead.
A Harrison Smith hit on 3rd-and-20, though, broke up Wentzs pass to Alshon Jeffery, forcing the Eagles to punt. And on the Vikings next drive, DeFilippo dialed up one of the teams most successful run calls of the season, when Latavius Murray gained 12 yards on a first-down draw.
DeFilippos call to peal tight end Kyle Rudolph out into the flat on 3rd-and-1 led to a 17-yard gain that put the Vikings in Eagles territory. And on a 3rd-and-7 from the Eagles 36, Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for two yards, nudging the Vikings close enough for a Dan Bailey 52-yarder. The kicker, whod missed his first two tries of the day, drilled this one, restoring a two-possession lead for the Vikings.
Wentzs late touchdown to Zach Ertz pulled Philadelphia back within two points, but the Vikings recovered an onside kick and were able to run out the clock.
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org