The Minnesota Vikings took an early 7-0 lead in the NFC Championship Game on a 75-yard drive that couldn’t have been scripted more perfectly.
Six runs, three passes and a Kyle Rudolph touchdown grab. The Vikings, as they’d hoped, would get to play from ahead.
But things went off the rails as the Philadelphia Eagles scored the final 24 points of the first half and 38 unanswered by the time the clock mercifully ran out on the Vikings.
Here’s a look at five plays that turned the tide.
1st Quarter, 6:26 remaining, Patrick Robinson’s interception return
The Vikings had a seven-point lead and the ball. Things were lining up perfectly.
Then, perhaps, came the game’s biggest play. Right tackle Rashod Hill, who struggled most of the night, let Chris Long get by him and brush Case Keenum’s arm during his third-and-8 throw. His wobbly pass was picked off by Patrick Robinson and returned for a game-tying touchdown.
“I felt like we were on track, we were on beat,” said Keenum. “Then the turnover was a mistake that definitely brought everyone back.”
Credit Robinson for his great return, but also credit Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins, who had marvelous blocks on Adam Thielen and Michael Floyd to pave the way.
The Eagles crowd was revived by the play, as were the Eagles themselves.
1st Quarter, 2:18 remaining, Zach Ertz 11-yard reception
At one point the Eagles were 9 of 11 on third down, and they finished the game 10 of 14, taking to task the best third-down defense in recorded NFL history.
Their very first conversion might have been the most damaging.
On a third-and-10 from the Vikings’ 47 with the score 7-7, Foles hit Zach Ertz over the middle, but Trae Waynes was in prime position to make a tackle short of the sticks. Instead of wrapping up, Waynes used his elbow to hit Ertz, who stayed on his feet and gained the first down. Philadelphia went on to score the go-ahead touchdown on the drive instead of being forced to punt, attempt a long field goal or try to go for it on fourth down.
Nine of Philadelphia’s 10 third-down conversions came through the air. It’s not as if they were all short conversions either. On their 10 conversions, the Eagles averaged third and 6.
“We saw a lot of the same things on film,” said cornerback Terence Newman. “Couple of them, yes, new wrinkles, but we had some coverages where we could’ve made plays. We didn’t make plays. That’s it.”
2nd Quarter, 3:25 remaining, Derek Barnett strip sack
The Eagles defensive line was outstanding throughout the game, playing a part in two turnovers. The second came on a strip sack by Derek Barnett as the Vikings were driving to potentially tie the game at 14.
David Morgan was lined up on the right side of the formation and needed to block Barnett, who was flying off the left edge. He was a hair late as Barnett blew by, took out Keenum’s arm — as he looked to connect with Stefon Diggs) and caused the takeaway.
This was Minnesota’s last chance possessing the ball with a chance to tie the game.
2nd Quarter, 1:09 remaining, Alshon Jeffery 53-yard TD reception
The Vikings defensive line had very little impact on the game sans a third-down sack of Foles earlier in the first half. On the Eagles’ longest touchdown of the night, the Vikings had the quarterback surrounded but couldn’t finish him off.
Foles, who was one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL against pressure, hung in the pocket, absorbed a swipe by Everson Griffen and hit Alshon Jeffery for a 53-yard touchdown after beating Newman on a double move.
“He stayed in there,” Tom Johnson said of Foles. “We expected him to drop back a little further. He was staying right in the middle of the pocket. … He stayed in the pocket more than I expected. Stepping up.”
2nd Quarter, 0:23 remaining, Zach Ertz 36-yard reception
After Jeffery’s touchdown, it seemed bleak enough for the Vikings with a two-possession deficit, but after kicking it back to the Eagles with 29 seconds left in the half, Foles was able to find Ertz, who beat Harrison Smith on an out-and-up route for 36 yards.
That got the Eagles in field-goal range for Jake’s Elliott 38-yard kick, and Philadelphia took a commanding 24-7 lead into the locker room.
“We weren’t able to stop the bleeding,” said Johnson.