Fewer than eight minutes had been played Sunday, but inside packed Lincoln Financial Field, where a week of wild anticipation had yielded a crazed atmosphere, the decibel level was beginning to slip like a postgame reveler on a South Philly light pole.
The Vikings had muffled some of the raucous enthusiasm with a near resistance-free touchdown on their first possession. Then, after the Eagles could counter only with a fruitless, five-play drive, Minnesota was advancing again, to a third down on their 43.
And that’s when Patrick Robinson ran – and ran and ran – into Eagles history.
Aided by Chris Long’s deflection and Ronald Darby’s block, Robinson turned the game on its head, re-igniting the fire in the stands and on his sideline with a long-playing, 50-yard pick-six that triggered the Eagles’ stunning 38-7 NFC championship victory.
Robinson traveled at least twice the touchdown yardage to reach the end zone, shifting direction and crossing the entire field before turning and racing several Vikings pursuers into a front corner of the end zone.
“About two hours before the game, I said, `If I get a pick, there’s no way I’m going out of bounds,’ ” the 30-year-old cornerback said in the noisy winners’ locker room. “So I just cut it back across the field.”
His was a game-changing play, one that immediately ascended into the pantheon of postseason highlights for an Eagles franchise still seeking its first Super Bowl victory.
“It kind of reminded me of the run by Wilbert [Montgomery],” ex-Eagle Harold Carmichael said of the 42-yard TD gallop that opened the scoring in the Eagles’ NFC championship game win over Dallas on Jan. 11, 1981. “It was one of those exciting plays that really gets the fans going.”
Like the unexpectedly lopsided conference championship, the play came out of nowhere.
His Vikings ahead, 7-0, with just under 7 minutes to play in the opening quarter, QB Case Keenum took the third-and-8 snap in the shotgun, retreated and waited for an open receiver. Just as he was about to unleash a pass toward wideout Adam Thielen in the left flat, Long arrived in the pocket.
“We were getting good pressure on him all night,” said Vinny Curry, Long’s linemate. “It looked like maybe Chris wasn’t going to get there, but I guess at the last second he got a piece of it.”
The defensive end, like Robinson a first-year Eagle, desperately extended a tattooed left arm. As Keenum’s right one came forward, Long’s swiping hand made contact.
The slightly altered throw that resulted wobbled directly into Robinson’s arms.
“Really, the d-line deserves the credit on that play,” said Robinson. “I was out in the flat when I saw the ball coming down. I was like, `Oh, man, this is going to be an easy pick.’ ”
Robinson cradled the ball, took a few strides forward, then reversed course and headed cross-field. He moved swiftly but thoughtfully, directing some of his blockers.
“A lot of times you get a pick and there’s always one guy who slips through the pack and gets you,” he said. “But this time all our guys were running hard and trying to make blocks. After I cut it back across the field, Darby made a great block.”
Robinson had motioned for Darby to pick up Vikings safety Anthony Harris just after he had veered toward the goal line. The Eagles corner complied, or at least ran right into Harris, who fell over backward.
“I was just trying to help my man there,” Darby said. “I don’t know what kind of block you call it, but I was doing what I could to get him where he wanted to go.”
His path cleared, Darby accelerated and beat two Vikings to the pylon.
Signed to a one-year deal on March 31 for the bargain price of $775,000 after being released by the Colts, Robinson’s solid play has solidified the Eagles defensive backfield, an area many predicted would be a problem in 2017.
Robinson led the team in interceptions with four and tied Jalen Mills for the lead in passes defended with 22.
“The whole defense has been playing together and playing well all season,” he said. “I really think that’s because our focus has been to forget the last play and just focus on the next one.”
That, Robinson said, is what allowed the Eagles to shake off a disconcerting, nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by the Vikings that followed the opening kickoff.
“We tried not to get down,” he said. “We still had, what, three quarters left? We don’t get down and we try not to get too happy.”
The latter, even Robinson had to admit, wasn’t easy in the Eagles’ postgame locker room Sunday night.