Maybe it was the two days off schedule that ruined the timing, stymied the intensity, took the edge away from a team that had been 6-1 in its last seven games. Maybe the fact that the Eagles had already clinched a playoff spot caused the Eagles to let down, just a little bit. Maybe the Eagles didn't take the Vikings all that seriously. Perhaps that rousing win over the Giants took more out of the Eagles than we thought.
Whatever the reason, the Eagles didn't have it on Tuesday night, not one bit of it in a 24-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
It was a stunning, startling and very damaging loss to a Vikings team that entered Lincoln Financial Field with four victories. The Eagles are now locked in at the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, with a bye week -- in effect -- coming against the Dallas Cowboys.
"Absolutely pathetic," said head coach Andy Reid, who went on to blame "every phase of the game" for the defeat.
He was correct.
All of the momentum generated by the Eagles in the remarkable comeback win over the Giants was stunted very quickly on Tuesday. The Eagles had no zip on offense and they allowed the Vikings to hang around, hang around, hang around in a lifeless first half. The key moment was a Michael Vick fumble late in the first half that robbed the little momentum the Eagles had, and for the first time in months the Eagles weren't able to recover.
With 55 seconds remaining in the half, ball on the 39-yard line of the Vikings with the Eagles holding a 7-0 advantage, Vick dropped back to throw. Points would have given the Eagles a two-score lead, and a bit of breathing room. At the very least, they would have gone in to the locker room with a lead had they just taken care of the football. And with Vick running the show, there was every reason to believe the offense would make something good happen to close out the half.
Under ordinary circumstances, that is.
But on this very disorienting of nights, Vick tried to escape the pressure of cornerback Antoine Winfield and, instead, Winfield poked the ball loose and recovered at the Eagles 45-yard line, and then he was off to the races. All done. A Vikings touchdown and a 7-7 game heading into the half.
"We saw how that was a huge momentum swing for the Minnesota Vikings," said Vick. "I didn't do a good job there. I have to protect the football better there, push up in the pockets, two hands on the ball. Drills we do every day in practice and I didn't do it there."
When Minnesota drove 62 yards in seven plays and took a lead on Ryan Longwell's 30-yard field goal, it was clearly going to be a ballgame. It was full-fledged panic situation after the Vikings drove 75 yards and scored on rookie quarterback Joe Webb's 17-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings ahead 17-7 midway through the third quarter.
"The thing to do now is regroup, look at our mistakes, figure it out and get better," said Vick. "We're a much better football team than we displayed tonight. Much, much better."
The Vikings did a superb job blitzing Vick off the edges, containing him and hitting him time and time and time again. He was sacked six times, hit another dozen times, forced into three turnovers and, in the end, Vick was unable to rally the Eagles once again in the fourth quarter.
Injured on the first play of the game when he rolled left and ran for 14 yards, Vick tried to overcome the Vikings scheme and the general lethargy of the night. Didn't happen. When the Eagles went down 17-7, Vick moved the offense from the Eagles 26-yard line to the Minnesota 28-yard line. Finally, the crowd was into it just a bit. But then Vick scrambled for 5 yards, was sandwiched by the Vikings defense and coughed up the football.
Vikings ball. End of rally.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles went 53 yards on 12 plays and scored on Vick's 10-yard run and it was 17-14. And the truth was, most of the fans and anyone who has watched the Eagles banked on a rally with 10 minutes, 17 seconds remaining on the clock. There was plenty of time to gather together, get some stops on defense and string together a couple of scores from an offense that has been so potent this year.
Instead, David Akers kicked off out of bounds and Minnesota had the football at its 40-yard line. And rookie quarterback Webb, poised and precise all night, converted a third-and-11 situation on a picture-perfect pass to wide receiver Percy Harvin -- running a crossing route and somehow matched up against middle linebacker Jamar Chaney -- for 19 yards. Then running back Adrian Peterson burst around the left edge for 27 yards to the Eagles' 1-yard line. Peterson finished off the drive with a touchdown run and that gave the Vikings a 24-14 lead.
There would be no miracle on this disappointing night.
So what is next? Reid didn't commit to a personnel strategy after the game. He was clearly irate with the way he prepared the team and with the way his team -- one that committed 12 penalties -- responded in a must-win (for a coveted bye week) moment. The Eagles have work to do on offense, because the blueprint is out there: Blitz the heck out of Vick and hit him, hit him, hit him. Take away the deep ball, give up some soft routes and take chances. Minnesota missed very few tackles all night.
Defensively, the Eagles allowed only 17 points, but they couldn't get off the field at critical times. Right cornerback Dimitri Patterson, victimized against the Giants, was benched after Harvin caught a 46-yard pass off a play-action fake (Patterson was called for pass interference, but the penalty was declined) to open the second half. Clearly, the Eagles have issues at the position.
The special teams continue to struggle in the kickoff return game and, once again, there were too many penalties. Chad Hall, not newly signed Gerard Lawson, returned kickoffs and averaged 14.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
It was an all-around dud by the Eagles. This is a team that played poorly for three quarters against the Giants before that remarkable final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. The Eagles have to get their tempo back offensively, and they must create some pressure at the line of scrimmage defensively. There is little time to mourn the opportunity lost; the team will play on wild card weekend, it's third game in less than two weeks of time.
"We missed this chance, so we have to bounce back," said cornerback Asante Samuel. "You can't look at it any other way."
Said Vick: "I'm going to be a better player because of this game. I know that. We made too many mistakes. We will learn from those mistakes."
Sounds great, but it was a horrible time for the Eagles to learn a lesson. They needed a win, not a reminder that if you don't bring your "A" game in the NFL, you are going to struggle. And the Eagles played one of their worst games of the year and lost a game they had to win, and in the process they lost a chance to gain some much-needed rest before what we hope is a long and deep playoff run.