– Vikings cornerback Terence Newman had the perfect and most brutally honest answer to a question about the 53-yard touchdown pass that he and All-Pro first-team safety Harrison Smith surrendered in Sunday’s 38-7 NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

“Everything they did [Sunday] gave us trouble,” he said. “Let’s be honest. They had some runs. They had some throws. Everything they did gave us fits. They put up [456] yards. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you, ‘Hey, it was this or it was that.’ They did everything.”

And how in the world did that happen, one step before the grandest of all stages in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium?

“I’d have to look at the film to see, but it was kind of like we had no energy,” Newman said. “We started off pretty quick and then things just went downhill. It didn’t seem like we had a whole lot of energy. It was like they wanted it more.”

Mark Vancleave
VideoVideo (01:25): In a somber locker room, Vikings players agonized over what they said was an uncharacteristically poor performance in their 38-7 NFC Championship Game defeat in Philadelphia.

And how in the world is that possible, considering the prize not only was the team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 41 years but the satisfaction of blocking Philly’s dog mask-wearing rowdies from spending a week frolicking through the streets of Minneapolis?

“That’s a good question,” Newman said.

Was it a hangover from the “Minneapolis Miracle” against the Saints? That Vikings victory and ensuing celebration led Eagles fans to spend the second half mocking the “Skol” clap by turning it into the [Nick] “Foles” clap.

“It’s possible,” Newman said of a hangover. “But I don’t think this team is that type of team.”

The Vikings defense entered Sunday’s game ranked first in points allowed (15.8), yards allowed (275.9) and third-down conversion percentage (25.2). But the Eagles tagged them with season highs in points, yards and third-down conversions (10 of 14 with two TDs).

Foles threw for 352 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and a 141.4 passer rating. Tight end Zach Ertz had eight catches for 93 yards and four third-down conversions.

Leading 7-0 heading into their second possession, the Vikings were off to a perfect start. The kind of start that silenced thousands of hearty drinkers who took full advantage of the late kickoff time.

But the momentum disappeared soon with Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson’s score-tying 50-yard pick-six.

But that wasn’t a killer. Or it shouldn’t have been when a team has the top defense in the league.

Of course, the Eagles, who ranked fourth on defense statistically, weren’t willing to crown the Vikings defense in the days leading up to the game.

“I think [Sunday’s game] is a good opportunity to prove who the best is,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said on Thursday. “If we say we’re the best, we got to prove it. Go out there and have more intensity than their defense.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

From the 13:37 mark of the second quarter until the 10:05 mark of the third, the Eagles scored 24 points.

During that roughly 18-minute stretch, even Smith, the best safety in the league, was among those beaten on the 53-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Alshon Jeffery, a 36-yarder off a double move by tight end Zach Ertz to set up a field goal, and a 41-yard touchdown pass off a flea-flicker to Torrey Smith.

The 53-yarder to Jeffery with 69 seconds remaining in the first half seemed to be the knockout blow. With first-team All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the locker room having his foot examined, Newman had to cover Jeffery, the Eagles’ most dangerous receiver.

“I broke on a dig [route], looked for the ball, and the next thing I know, [Jeffery] takes off,” Newman said. “It looked like [Foles] was about to get tackled. Then he hit him for the touchdown.”

Smith, who trailed Jeffery by 6 yards when he caught the ball, was asked if he felt the defense had low energy.

“Well,” he said, “we haven’t taken a game like that all year.”

And now they have. One stubbed toe from the Super Bowl.

 

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com