Nick Foles tossed three touchdown passes, and the Eagles scored 38 unanswered points en route to a 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
LeGarrette Blount rushed for a touchdown, the Philadelphia defense forced two turnovers, and the Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, when they lost the title to the New England Patriots.
The Eagles will face the Patriots once again with a chance at a Super Bowl championship, this time on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.
Despite being the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, the Eagles were home underdogs both last week against the Atlanta Falcons and Sunday against the Vikings.
“I don’t think many people had us in the Super Bowl before the season started,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “When the injuries started piling up, people didn’t have us there. When (quarterback) Carson Wentz got injured? Doubt anyone had us penciled in. We made it. We’re a team in every way. It feels so great, man.”
The Eagles will aim for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Before falling to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, they lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV following the 1980 season.
The Vikings, meanwhile, dropped their sixth consecutive NFC Championship Game appearance.
Minnesota had been in search of its first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1976 season.
“I’m going to take this feeling, bottle it up and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Vikings quarterback Case Keenum said.
Foles connected on a 41-yard touchdown with Torrey Smith on a flea flicker on the first drive of the third quarter as the Eagles extended their lead to 31-7.
Alshon Jeffery caught made his second touchdown catch of the game, a 5-yarder from Foles, with 14:10 left in the fourth for a 38-7 lead. The Eagles moved 92 yards in 12 plays, and the outcome was sealed.
“I’m excited to be going for a Super Bowl with this group of guys,” Blount said. “I love this team. My teammates are the greatest. We stick together through everything and rally around each other. We have one more to go.”
The game didn’t start perfectly for the Eagles. Minnesota moved effectively on its opening drive, going 75 yards on nine plays, culminating with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to Kyle Rudolph with 10:14 left in the first quarter.
“You have to give those guys credit,” Keenum said of the Eagles’ defense. “This was the best front we’ve faced this year.”
The Eagles tied the game at 7 when defensive end Chris Long hit Keenum leading to a Patrick Robinson interception. Robinson returned the pick 50 yards for a score with 6:26 remaining in the first.
When Blount rumbled through the middle for an 11-yard touchdown run with 13:37 remaining in the second, the Eagles went ahead 14-7. The drive covered 75 yards in 12 plays.
The Vikings looked to tie the game — or at least kick a field goal — late in the first half, but Keenum was sacked by Derek Barnett on third-and-5 from the Philadelphia 16. Long recovered the fumble.
Foles proved his mettle on the ensuing possession as he tossed a spectacular 53-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery on third-and-10, giving the Eagles a 21-7 lead with 1:09 remaining in the half. Foles was able to move around long enough to be able to deliver the deep pass.
After the defense did its job, the Eagles didn’t run out the clock. They quickly moved down the field and Jake Elliott booted a 38-yard field as time expired for a 24-7 lead at halftime.
Foles wound up 26 of 33 for 352 yards. Tight end Zach Ertz led the Eagles with eight receptions for 93 yards, while Jeffery had five catches for 85 yards. Jay Ajayi paced the Philadelphia ground game with 73 yards on 18 carries.
Keenum finished 28 of 48 for 271 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions. Running back Jerick McKinnon had 11 receptions for 86 yards and added 10 carries for 40 yards.
–Field Level Media
The Philadelphia Eagles attempt to hold serve at home despite being tagged as underdogs for the second consecutive contest on Sunday as they host the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The top-seeded Eagles benefited from a late defensive stand to fend off Atlanta last week while the second-seeded Vikings scored an improbable last-second touchdown to stun New Orleans.
Case Keenum (career-high 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and 98.3 passer rating) took a light-hearted approach upon addressing the media on Wednesday, three days after connecting with Stefon Diggs on a 61-yard scoring strike to complete the “Minneapolis Miracle” in a 29-24 triumph over the Saints. “I know this is what you guys all predicted: A (Nick) Foles vs. Keenum NFC Championship Game,” he said, referencing the unlikely matchup pitting himself against a quarterback who is one year removed from seriously considering retirement. “It’s been a crazy journey,” the 28-year-old Foles, who was acquired with Keenum by the then-St. Louis Rams on the same day (March 10, 2015) before ultimately returning to Philadelphia in a backup role, told reporters. Foles has endured an uneven ride while filling in for the injured Carson Wentz, but he completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards in a 15-10 win over the Falcons.
TV: 6:40 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Vikings -3. O/U: 39
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (14-3): Diggs overcame a slow start to finish with six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown against the Saints, giving him 28 receptions and four scores in his last five games. Fellow wideout Adam Thielen (team-leading 91 catches, 1,276 yards), who finished with six receptions versus New Orleans for the third time in five contests, returned to practice on Thursday after being plagued by a lower-back injury. Latavius Murray rushed for a touchdown last week to increase his total to 22 since 2016 (including playoff games) as he heads into a tilt against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.
ABOUT THE EAGLES (14-3): Jay Ajayi stumbled out of the blocks with a fumble on his first carry last week before finishing with 54 yards rushing and 44 receiving on three catches. The 24-year-old clearly has become Philadelphia’s top option out of the backfield following an in-season trade with Miami, but the terrain could be tough against Minnesota’s top-ranked overall defense. Alshon Jeffery, who saw all four of his catches result in first downs last week, had a team-best nine touchdown receptions this season and has scored seven times in nine career games versus the Vikings.
1. Minnesota is bidding to snap a string of five straight losses in the NFC Championship Game and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl XI.
2. Philadelphia lost its last NFC title game appearance against Arizona in the 2008 season, although it emerged victorious the last time it hosted the contest (27-10 win over Atlanta, 2004 season).
3. The home team has won the last eight conference championship games.
Not satisfied with a worst-to-first finish in their division, the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars look to continue their remarkable run when they visit the top-seeded New England Patriots for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Jacksonville will have to solve the most successful coach-quarterback tandem in league history, although four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady missed practice again Thursday with an injured right hand.
The Patriots are appearing in their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game, but coach Bill Belichick dismissed the idea that the been-there-won-that factor gives his team a huge edge. “I don’t think experience has anything to do with that,” Belichick, who has guided New England to seven Super Bowls – winning five – since 2001, told reporters. “It is what happens Sunday, not what happened last year, two years ago, five years ago, 15 years ago, 1996 or whatever it is. Those games don’t make any difference, with all due respect.” The third-seeded Jaguars are brimming with confidence, with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey predicting a victory over the Patriots in the wake of last week’s 45-42 win at No. 2 seed Pittsburgh. Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged that New England presents “a great challenge for us” and fully expects to see Brady, saying, “I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well.”
TV: 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -7.5. O/U: 46.5
ABOUT THE JAGUARS (12-6): Jacksonville features the league’s top-ranked rushing attack led by rookie Leonard Fournette, who ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns last week but also nicked an ankle that limited him in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Blake Bortles completed just 53.1 percent of his passes in the two playoff wins, but he has not committed a turnover after tossing five interceptions in the final two regular-season games. The Jaguars will try to slow the NFL’s top offense with a defense that surrenders a league-low 169.9 yards passing while ranking second in sacks (55) and interceptions (21). Ramsey and cornerback A.J. Bouye combined for 10 picks while defensive ends Calais Campbell (14.5) and Yannick Ngakoue (12) accounted for nearly half of the team’s sacks.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (14-3): Brady owns the most postseason wins (26) in history and added to his playoff legacy last week, passing for more than 300 yards for the 13th time and surpassing Joe Montana with his 10th three-touchdown performance. Journeyman Brian Hoyer is the only quarterback on the roster besides Brady, who hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008 and completed at least three passes to five different receivers in last week’s 35-14 rout of Tennessee. Dion Lewis has rushed for at least 60 yards in seven of his last eight games and added a season-high nine catches last week while tight end Rob Gronkowski has 34 receptions and four touchdowns over his last four contests. New England is vulnerable to the run, ranking 20th at 114.8 yards allowed, but it permits only 18.5 points per game.
1. Brady can became the first QB in history with four straight playoff games of least 300 yards passing and multiple TDs.
2. Jacksonville led the NFL with seven defensive TDs during the regular season and added another score versus Pittsburgh.
3. The Patriots are 6-1 in AFC title games at home and have won 10 of their 11 all-time meetings with Jacksonville.
Case Keenum (7)
PITTSBURGH – Leonard Fournette rushed for three touchdowns, Telvin Smith returned a fumble 50 yards for a score and the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1999 and will face New England, which dominated Tennessee 35-14 on Saturday.
Fournette finished with 109 yards on 25 carries. He left in the second quarter with an ankle injury but returned in the second half and finished with 109 yards on a game-high 25 carries.
“It’s the same ankle that has been bothering me,” said Fournette. “It just landed the wrong way … every time you re-injure anything, especially the ankle … it hurt a little bit.”
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown made his first appearance since Dec. 17 when he injured his left calf against the Patriots. He still managed to lead the league with 1,533 receiving yards despite missing the final two games of the season.
Brown finished with 132 yards on seven receptions with two touchdowns.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 37-of-58 passing and set a franchise playoff record with 469 yards. He also threw for five touchdowns with an interception.
“We didn’t get it done, we didn’t play well enough today,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “The effort was there, the resolve was there, but just not enough detailed execution to win against good people in January football. That’s about the only way to cut it.”
The game was a rematch from Week 5 when Jacksonville dismantled Pittsburgh 30-9, also at Heinz Field. This time, Jacksonville led by 21 points twice in the first-half lead and then withstood a late rally.
The Steelers pulled to within 28-21 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Le’Veon Bell with 9:09 left in the third quarter.
The Jaguars regained the momentum by forcing an incomplete pass on a 4th-and-1 at their own 39 early in the fourth quarter. Blake Bortles threw a 45-yard pass to Keelan Cole to the 3-yard line, setting up Fournette’s career-best third touchdown of the game.
The Steelers would not go away, and Roethlisberger threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brown on a 4th-and-5, cutting the margin to 35-28 with 9:05 left in the game. Bortles answered with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanon.
Pittsburgh refused to quit, and a lateral by Roethlisberger to Bell set up an 8-yard score that pulled the Steelers to 42-35. The Jaguars recovered the onside kick and sealed the game on a 45-yard field goal by Josh Lambo.
Roethlisberger rounded out the scoring with a 4-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with one second left.
“They kept fighting throughout the duration,” said Fournette. “We just knew that every time they scored, we had to come back and score and put a drive together to help our defense gather their breaths.”
Bortles completed 14 of 26 pass attempts for 214 yards with the touchdown, a week after becoming just the second quarterback in the past 25 years to have more rushing yards than passing yards in a playoff game.
“I’m sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove or talk negative or hate and do whatever they want,” said Bortles. “But we get to keep playing, we get another opportunity to go play in Foxborough next week. Just honored to be able to do it, especially with this group of guys.”
The Jaguars took a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening possession on a 1-yard run by Fournette on a 4th-and-goal. An interception by Myles Jack set up an 18-yard touchdown by Fournette, stunning the sell-out crowd.
Jacksonville stuffed Bell for a 4-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 at the Jaguars’ 25 on the ensuing drive. That led to a 4-yard scoring run by T.J. Yeldon, boosting the lead to 21-0 with 11:31 left in the half. Pittsburgh finally got on the board on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown.
The Jaguars regained the momentum when Yannick Ngakoue strip-sacked Roethlisberger and Telvin Smith picked up the loose ball and ran 50 yards for the score and a 28-7 lead. Roethlisberger answered on the next drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant on a 4th-and-11 that cut the margin to 14 at the half.
Jacksonville put 42 points on the board after combining for 20 in its past two weeks.
“It’s been a lack of execution,” said Bortles. “We’ve just kinda been having some mental errors and not really being able to figure things out. It’s hasn’t been schemes or calls or anything like that. We kinda just put it all together today, and guys played their tails off.”
–Field Level Media