After the confetti flew and fireworks erupted and 69,596 fans sang “Fly, Eagles, Fly!” while the Eagles hoisted the NFC championship trophy, coach Doug Pederson gathered his team in the locker room and uttered a proclamation that hasn’t been heard in Philadelphia in 13 years.
“We’re going to the Super Bowl!” Pederson said. “We’re going to the stinkin’ Super Bowl!”
A season that started when players showered Pederson with Gatorade following a season-opening win continued with another Gatorade bath late in the Eagles’ 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. They now have a Feb. 4 date with the New England Patriots in Minneapolis.
“We’re not only going to Minneapolis,” owner Jeffrey Lurie told the crowd. “We have something to do in Minneapolis. One more win!”
The underdog Eagles dominated the Vikings, allowing the crowd to start chanting “Super Bowl! Super Bowl!” well before the clock expired. Some Eagles fans donned dog masks, and those won’t go out of style. In two weeks, the Eagles face the ultimate Goliath in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX.
In a battle of backups against the Vikings’ Case Keenum, Nick Foles played more like a franchise quarterback. Just a few weeks after he was viewed as the Eagles’ biggest weakness in the postseason, Foles played one of the finest games of his career on the biggest stage of his life. With an injured Carson Wentz watching from the sideline, Foles completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I haven’t even had time to really comprehend what’s going on, to be honest. I don’t even know if I ever will,” Foles said. “When I was up there on the stage, it’s something you dream about as a kid. Just being the magnitude of this game and for us to go out as a team and put together a great performance, that’s something really special.”
All five of the Eagles’ touchdowns were scored by players team executive Howie Roseman acquired during the offseason: Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery twice, and Torrey Smith. Roseman was named executive of the year last week, and Sunday showed why.
Maybe more, it was a testament to Doug Pederson’s coaching effort this season. Pederson, whose credentials and acumen were hot topics before the season, will now try to outwit Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. His play-calling remained adept Sunday, and his leadership has guided the Eagles all season.
The torn ligaments in the knees of Wentz, Jason Peters, and Darren Sproles didn’t stop the Eagles. They weren’t undone by Jordan Hicks’ ruptured Achilles tendon or in-season absences of Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Rodney McLeod, and Ronald Darby. The team encountered hurdles all season, overcoming them every time. Lurie called it “almost unprecedented.”
“If you told me before September that, ‘No, you’re not going to have Jason Peters, you’re not going to have Darren Sproles, you’re not going to have Jordan Hicks; you’re eventually not going to have Carson Wentz; you’re going to lose your best special-teams player in [Chris] Maragos; by the way, your field goal kicker, you’re not going to have him either,’ it’s a little bit of a lot of body blows,” Lurie said. “If you had said that, I would have said, ‘No, I don’t think we’ll make the playoffs.’ The resiliency amongst this group is phenomenal.”
Pederson saw the seeds of this success during the summer. He said then that the Eagles’ talent compared to that of his Green Bay Packers teams that reached the Super Bowl twice in the 1990s. It drew skepticism at the time, but the last four months illustrated Pederson’s clairvoyance. He said Friday that the players, coaching, and development culminated to the point that he can reflect and realize, “Wow, maybe it was a true-type thing.”
The Vikings entered Sunday with the NFL’s top-ranked defense and the best third-down defense since at least 1991. The Eagles accumulated 456 yards and went 10 of 14 on third downs. Minnesota had no answer for the Eagles, whose defense looked superior. The Eagles have not allowed more than one touchdown in four consecutive games and forced three turnovers.
The biggest one came in the first quarter after the Vikings took an early 7-0 lead and will be remembered in Eagles history as the moment the game tilted in their direction. Chris Long burst around the left edge and extended his arm to disrupt Keenum on a third-and-8. Keenum’s pass fluttered, allowing Patrick Robinson to camp under it for an interception at midfield. Robinson sprinted the width of the field and raced past the Vikings for a touchdown that tied the score at 7.
“Two hours before the game, I was like, ‘If I get a pick, I’m not going out of bounds,’ ” Robinson said. “I was running down the sideline and I was like, ‘No, I definitely can’t go out of bounds.’ ”
The 7-7 score lasted for one quarter before the Eagles exploded for 17 points in the second quarter. LeGarrette Blount bulled through the Vikings for an 11-yard touchdown run to cap a 12-play drive that was extended by Zach Ertz’s two third-down catches.
Minnesota drove into the red zone late in the second quarter when Derek Barnett rushed unimpeded around the left edge to sack Keenum and pop the ball loose. Long recovered to halt a potential Vikings scoring drive. The Eagles drafted Barnett with the pick they acquired from Minnesota in the Sam Bradford trade, adding a cruel twist to his key play.
The Vikings were also candidates to land top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in free agency last March. He chose the Eagles, and he gave them a two-score lead when he caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Foles on thirdand 10. The deep ball came while all-pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes watched from the sideline nursing an injury. Foles and Jeffery took advantage of Rhodes’ absence, and the crowd started to sense the onslaught. Jeffery finished with five catches for 85 yards and two scores.
After an end-of-half field goal, Pederson reached deep into the playbook on the first drive of the second half, when he called the Eagles’ first flea-flicker of the season. Foles handed the ball to Corey Clement, who tossed it back to Foles, who threw deep downfield for Smith. Smith caught the 41-yard touchdown pass, giving the Eagles a 31-7 lead. Foles needed to contain a smile when he emerged from the huddle. He had never been involved in a play like that.
Lincoln Financial Field might never have been louder. The fans waited long enough, and they could start thinking about the Patriots.
“This city deserves it,” said tight end Brent Celek, the Eagles’ longest-tenured player. “We’re going to have so much fun. We just have to finish this thing.”
That was part of the postgame message. Before the season, they were merely a playoff hopeful. After Wentz’s injury, their lofty aspirations appeared out of reach. But on Sunday night, with the way Foles played and the defense excelled and Pederson coached, anything seemed possible.
“We still have some unfinished business, obviously,” Pederson said. “We’re going to pack our bags and head to Minneapolis.”
Because the Eagles – yes, the Eagles – are going to the stinkin’ Super Bowl.