PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Zimmer was quick to shoulder the blame after Minnesota's 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game.
The Vikings coach was asked about Case Keenum's rough performance, then about right tackle Rashod Hill a few questions later. Zimmer was adamant that he was not going to grade his players Sunday night on the way they played. For the time being, Zimmer pointed the finger at himself for the things that went wrong against in Philadelphia against the Eagles.
“I think there was a lot of performances that could have been a lot better, including myself,” Zimmer said.
He wasn’t the only one who felt personally responsible for the way things played out.
“We just played [like] trash,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said.
“[Going] 14-4 is good even though you came up empty-handed, but going out this way is terrible,” defensive end Everson Griffen followed.
Nick Foles and the Eagles offense had their way with the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Foles turned in one of the best performances of his career, looking like the 2013 Pro Bowl version of himself after he threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
Entering the NFC title game, Foles had a passer rating of 34.0 under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. Against Minnesota, that number ballooned to 152.1.
“He was getting the ball out pretty fast from what I’d seen,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. “Being able to put pressure on him, he stayed in there. We expected him to drop back a little further. He was staying in the middle of the pocket.”
Foles was at his best Sunday with the use of the Eagles' run-pass option, a concept Chip Kelly introduced in Philadelphia and Doug Pederson took to another level. Vikings defenders anticipated that the quarterback would roll out more once he sensed pressure. But even as the pocket collapsed around him, throw after throw, Foles found his receivers and tight ends.
The use of play-action resulted in Foles going 10-of-11 for 105 yards and a touchdown on third down. What stung in the aftermath the most for Minnesota was how well Foles played on third down and how the Vikings weren’t able to stop it.
Sitting on a stool facing his locker while trying to process his 15th season coming to an end, cornerback Terence Newman stewed in disbelief over what had happened, how the NFL’s top-ranked third-down defense -- the same one that set the all-time record for defensive efficiency on third down (25.2 percent) -- allowed the Eagles to convert 10 of 14 times.
“Completely uncharacteristic from what we did all season,” Newman said. “They’ve got some guys that are damn good football players. I’m not going to sit here and try to take anything away from this team. They played excellent and we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but they executed. They made plays. You have to give them credit.”
Foles went from 7-of-21 passing on third down in his previous three games combined to completing 10 straight throws on third down after a deep incompletion on his first third-down pass attempt.
The deep ball was the Eagles quarterback’s weapon of choice for ripping through the Vikings secondary, capitalizing on miscommunication, missed assignments, injuries (Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo) and errors among the defensive backs. It was uncharacteristically successful for Foles, who had one completion in 12 attempts of 20 or more yards downfield in 2017 and was 0-for-10 since taking over as the starter.
Foles missed his first two deep throws in the first quarter but was 4-of-4 afterward with two touchdowns: a 53-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery, which was the longest TD allowed by Minnesota this season, and a 41-yard flea-flicker to open the third quarter.
The Vikings had allowed just one passing touchdown of 40 yards all season prior to the championship game.
Minnesota’s sixth straight loss in the NFC Championship was cemented by the most points this defense allowed all season.
What stings the deepest will be the lasting memory of the defense's collapse in the title game, one that reflected the complete opposite of how it had played throughout the season.
“We didn’t play like ourselves,” Griffen said. “The score reflects it, and it sucks.”
Secondary woes: Cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes both struggled badly in coverage. Waynes allowed six of the seven passes thrown his way to be caught, for 105 yards and two touchdowns; Foles had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when throwing at Waynes. Rhodes allowed all four passes thrown his way to be caught, for 39 yards; he allowed a passer rating of 107.3.
Smith struggles: Safety Harrison Smith had one of his worst games of the season. Smith allowed all four of the passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, for a total of 55 yards; Foles had a passer rating of 118.8 when targeting Smith (all four passes targeted Zach Ertz). Smith also missed a tackle in the running game. During the regular season, Smith surrendered a total of just 140 receiving yards and allowed a passer rating of 22.0.