The Vikings defense executed its game plan effectively for 3 1/2 quarters Sunday.
They shut down the Philadelphia Eagles run game, held Brian Westbrook in check and got pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb. But the bottom fell out on one disastrous play in a 26-14 playoff loss at the Metrodome.
Trailing 16-14 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings needed one more stop to give their offense another chance. But on first down, Westbrook took a screen pass 71 yards for a touchdown.
"You don't want to give up a 71-yard screen, but if that happens in the first quarter or first half you can recover from it," defensive end Jared Allen said. "If it happens in the fourth quarter when you're down by two ... I thought we were dominating. We were taking away what we needed to take away. The sad part is I thought we played well enough to win until that screen play."
Said linebacker Ben Leber: "You take away that one play and we played pretty solid. But it's hard to really hang your hat on a good performance when you give up a play like that."
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams got within a step of McNabb on the pass rush but tripped as McNabb released the ball. That gave McNabb a clear lane to dump the ball off to Westbrook, who had a convoy of blockers.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield dived for Westbrook at the 45-yard line but just missed. "We can't give up that play at that point in the game," Winfield said.
That play was the only real blemish on an otherwise solid performance by a defense that played without injured starting linemen Pat Williams and Ray Edwards.
The Vikings made the Eagles completely one-dimensional, holding them to 67 yards rushing. Minnesota also had an interception by Cedric Griffin and a sack-strip by Allen, three sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
"We harassed him all day," Kevin Williams said. "He couldn't get his feet set. He was getting away from a lot of sacks that we should have had. ... Whoever thought the guy is immobile or falling off is sadly mistaken."
McNabb also took advantage of soft spots in the Vikings defense. He repeatedly found receivers over the middle.
"We ran a lot of zone blitzes, which is similar to what their defense does," Winfield said. "He knows where the weaknesses are and he hit a few today."
Still, the defense held the Eagles to three field goals and gave the Vikings a chance until that game-breaking screen play.
"I wish we could go back and have it over, that's for sure," Leber said.