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Vikings never were in NFC title game

Philadelphia Eagles' Corey Graham, left, intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings' Adam Thielen, right, during the fourth quarter of the NFC championship NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

By BARRY WILNER

AP Pro Football Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Vikings would have traveled anywhere to play in their first Super Bowl since 1977.

This year, though, the game is in their stadium. They won't be in it.

"I mean, we would've loved to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China," coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday night after the Philadelphia Eagles humbled Minnesota 38-7 for the NFC championship. "But we didn't play good enough to win. I know that's cliché, but it's true.

"We have to give them a lot of credit, they played great on defense, played good on offense. Some of our strengths they attacked on third downs, which was one of our strengths all along. They got after us tonight."

Sure did. After the Vikings (14-4) took a 7-0 lead on the game's opening drive, it was all Philadelphia (15-3). One place the Eagles dominated was third downs, converting 10 of 14 against the league leader on defense in that category.

Two of those conversions were for touchdowns on Nick Foles' passes to Alshon Jeffery for 53 and 5 yards.

Was Zimmer surprised by how his team couldn't handle such situations?

"No. Actually most of the things they did, we practiced," he said. "They ran them just a little better than we covered them."

Well, a lot better.

Philly also won the turnover battle 3-0, another significant contribution to one of Minnesota's worst playoff defeats.

"One of the things we preached coming in was turnovers," said Case Keenum, who threw a pick-6 to Patrick Robinson that tied the game 7-7 and began the Eagles onslaught.

"They took care of the football and we didn't. We were still winning at that point, obviously, but we couldn't execute on the critical situations that we needed to on third downs or scoring in the red zone."

The outcome pretty much was decided by halftime, when it was 24-7. Philadelphia was winning in the trenches, the Vikings couldn't cover tight end Zach Ertz, and the secondary was torched for a 53-yard TD catch by Alshon Jeffery and a 41-yarder by Torrey Smith.

It all made for a long night two weeks before Minneapolis hosts the Super Bowl that the Eagles and Patriots now have reached.

"They're all hard to swallow," Keenum said of the loss. "Once you get a game away from playing in the Super Bowl, that's going to be hard to swallow. The way it happened, I mean, they played really well and we didn't. It's unfortunate."

Zimmer praised his team's performance this season, and rightfully so. For portions of the schedule, the Vikings were as good as anyone, particularly on defense, where they allowed a league-low 252 points.

But they also were extremely fortunate to get to the NFC title game, winning on a last-play 61-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs.

"I love this football team, they're great kids, great competitors," Zimmer said. "I love how they go about their business. I love everything about this football team. I love the organization. We just didn't get it done tonight.

"I'm not going to grade anybody's performance tonight. I think there's a lot of performances that could've been a lot better, including myself."

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Updated January 22, 2018

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