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Vaunted Vikings defense 'got whupped' when it mattered most ... by Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) throws the ball past Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson (92) in the second half during the NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 21, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA—The Vikings were favored to beat the Eagles on their home field Sunday night, Jan. 21, but it's easy to imagine a few ways in which Minnesota could lose.

Maybe Case Keenum would throw a costly interception. Maybe a Vikings running back would lose an untimely fumble. Or maybe Kai Forbath would blow a crucial kick. The one certainty, though, was the Vikings defense. That unit would perform. It would keep the Vikings in any game. It always has.

All season, that unit was invincible, untouchable, unbeatable.

Until Sunday, that is. The best defensive unit in the NFL—both by yards and points allowed—the backbone of one of the best regular seasons in Vikings history, was exposed, and exposed badly, on one of the NFL's brightest stages and was the most to blame in Minnesota's 38-7 defeat.

"We weren't good," defensive end Brian Robison said. "There was a lot of areas we weren't good in. At the end of the day, we just got whupped."

Philadelphia put up 38 points—to be fair, seven of those belong to Keenum and the Vikings' offensive line—and 456 yards. Both were season highs, and it wasn't even close. The defense got its teeth kicked in, and it wasn't by Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, but Nick Foles. On Sunday, the journeyman quarterback completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three scores.

This was an Eagles offense that scored 15 points in a divisional playoff win over Atlanta. In Foles' four previous starts this season, the Eagles averaged 17 points.

When the Vikings defense's best was needed, it delivered its worst, and everyone was to blame, starting at the top.

"I could've called a lot better game," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I'm gonna point the finger at me before I point the finger at any of my players."

There were times Sunday when it looked like Zimmer, a lauded defensive mastermind, was playing checkers, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson was playing chess. Every time Minnesota brought pressure, Philadelphia had a screen pass to counter. Zimmer never found an answer for anything Pederson dialed up.

"They game-planned us," defensive end Danielle Hunter said. "They did a good job. They out-schemed us."

That falls on the coaching staff.

"They came out with a better game plan, stopped a lot of stuff that we usually do well," defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. "They did a lot of stuff to try to slow us down up front—play action, throwback, trick plays, all that stuff to try to slow us down. And at some point and time, I guess the second quarter, it started working."

The defensive line had one sack and applied almost no pressure. Johnson said he was surprised at Foles' ability to step up in the pocket on the rare occasion when the play did start to collapse.

"Everything they did today gave us trouble," Newman said. "They had some runs, they had some throws. Everything they did gave us fits."

Particularly when it mattered most. The Vikings' third-down defense was historically good this season, yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14 on the money down Sunday.

"Uncharted territory, you know," Johnson said. "We were supposed to be able to stop that and give our offense an opportunity to go out there. We were short today. We wasn't playing Vikings defense. They were able to capitalize on it."

Again, and again, and again.

"Once they kept scoring we're like, 'What's going on back there?' 'What's going on?'" Hunter said. "That's what everybody was saying on defense."

Nobody had a good answer for that question, even after the game. Newman said it seemed like the defense had "no energy." That's a criminal offense on a stage this big. How, with a trip to the Super Bowl—a home Super Bowl, no less—could that be the case?

Said Newman: "That's a good question."