The narrative coming out of the Vikings locker room this week, as the team prepares for its trip to Philadelphia on Sunday, figures to be that this matchup is a separate entity from the Eagles’ 38-7 victory in the NFC Championship Game in January.
The facts should help that narrative along: The Vikings and Eagles both have different quarterbacks than the last time they faced, with Kirk Cousins coming to Minnesota and Carson Wentz having returned from the torn knee ligament that kept him out for the NFC Championship Game. John DeFilippo — the Philadelphia quarterbacks coach for the NFC title game — is the Vikings offensive coordinator now.
And most importantly, as the Vikings try to rebound from a week where they lost two games in five days, they are facing an Eagles team going through its own set of growing pains.
Philadelphia is 25th in the league in points through the first quarter of the season, having struggled to finish drives in the red zone so far this season and kicking three field goals of 37 yards or shorter in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Titans on Sunday. The Eagles have dropped both of their road games this season, switching from Nick Foles to Wentz the week they faced the Colts and their former offensive coordinator (Frank Reich).
Sunday’s matchup, given a late-afternoon national TV audience on Fox, will be between a pair of presumptive contenders still trying to find their footing.
“There’ll be a tremendous sense of urgency,” Cousins said Thursday night. “We’ll have an edge to us in our preparation, an edge to us during the game. They’re the defending world champions, we’re playing them at their place, they reloaded and added some talent. It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s really what this league is all about.”
The Vikings returned to work Monday following a weekend off in the wake of their 38-31 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday. Their 1-2-1 record puts them third in the NFC North through the first four weeks of the season, behind the 3-1 Bears and the 2-1-1 Packers.
Their defense, which forced four turnovers in the season opener, hasn’t had a takeaway since, and the 556 yards they allowed Thursday were the most since the Saints torched a 2-11 Vikings team for 573 on Dec. 18, 2011.
After allowing the Rams’ Jared Goff to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating against them, they will face Wentz, who seemed on track to win NFL MVP honors last season before tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament against the Rams in December.
And they will hear plenty from a Philadelphia crowd that figures to remind them repeatedly about the NFC Championship Game result.
“You can get things thrown at you, too,” Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. “You’re going to need thick skin. It’s just what football is, you know?”
A Week 5 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions wouldn’t avenge the NFC title game loss, but its benefits would be clear: The Vikings, with one NFC win to their credit this season, can turn things around quickly in a conference where only three teams started the year 3-1 or better.
They will play three of their next four at U.S. Bank Stadium after the Eagles game, starting that stretch with an 0-4 Cardinals team before a road trip to face the 1-3 Jets.
A victory Sunday might be about catharsis for their fans, but for the Vikings, it’s a chance to stop a three-game winless streak against an opponent that also hasn’t been in contending form.
In other words, they could jump-start their 2018 season in the building where the 2017 season ended. It’s enough to put a sharp sense of focus into the Vikings’ preparation for a game that’s pivotal for reasons far beyond story lines.
“It should be the mentality for everybody in the locker room,” Richardson said. “But once again, those are only words. We’ve got to go out and do it.”