MINNEAPOLIS – Less than a quarter of football remained. The Minnesota Vikings would get their hands on the football three more times and, at that point, they needed to score just twice.
But when Brian Westbrook caught Donovan McNabb's screen pass and turned the Vikings' defense inside out for a 71-yard touchdown catch-and-run, it was as if the game had come down to its last at-bat and the Eagles were the ones at the plate.
"We were down two points and then we said, 'They hit a two-run home run in the ninth. Kind of a walk-off,'" Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. Westbrook's touchdown was the only one scored all day by the Eagles' offense but it bumped a 16-14 lead to 23-14. And yes, it was that deflating for the home team.
"It's a nasty taste in your mouth right now, to be in the game and to pretty much be stuffing them throughout the game," Williams said. "We just can't give up that big play at that time. If we gave it up early, we could have maybe had time to recover. When it's that late, it's hard."
There was no recovering for the Vikings, whose defense in the first half had held the Eagles to six first downs, 1-of-5 on third downs and 158 net yards. McNabb found some rhythm in the second half, though, connecting on 5 of his 7 attempts for 56 yards.
Then, on first-and-10 from the 29-yard line, the Eagles called the right play at exactly the right time. Using Minnesota's aggressive pass rush against it got Westbrook free, and from there it was a slow-motion nightmare for the Vikings.
Williams fell as he nearly got close enough to grab him. Antoine Winfield had a chance to trip up Westbrook but missed. Even pass-rusher Jared Allen chased the Eagles' back about 60 yards before giving up.
"It would have been different if there would have at least been a body coming in on him [McNabb]," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "When he [Williams] went down, there was a lane that Donovan didn't have to put any air under the ball. . . . That would have made that play a little tougher for them."
It was a regrettable end to a resilient season for a Minnesota defense that had bounced back through much of this season. Injuries to linebacker E.J. Henderson, safety Madieu Williams and nose tackle Pat Williams didn't derail a crew that made NFL history, leading the league in rushing defense for the third consecutive season (the Eagles managed only 67 yards rushing yesterday). They shrugged off fines and suspensions, and now they face the loss of coordinator Leslie Frazier, who will be interviewed for one or more head coaching vacancies. But nothing rattled them like McNabb's toss to Westbrook.
"There was almost like a sense of confusion,'' Allen said. "We had dominated. We had taken away what we needed to take away. Then that happens.''