Vikings season endsby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings post-season run was a brief one.
The Vikings were knocked out the National Football League playoffs in the first round when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 26-14 at the Metrodome Sunday.
It was a disappointing finish, but the Vikings say a season that brought their first division title in eight years provided plenty to build on for next season.
The Vikings needed a deadline extension to sell out all the tickets for their first home-field playoff game since 2000. But when kickoff finally arrived, more than 61,000 fans let loose eight years of pent-up enthusiasm in full-throated form.
In the first quarter only Philadelphia had scoring plays to cheer, in the form of two field goals.
The Vikings took the lead in the second quarter when running back Adrian Peterson broke loose for a 40-yard touchdown run. The Eagles added another field goal before the pivotal play of the game -- an underthrown pass by Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson that was intercepted by Philadelphia's Asante Samuel, who ran it back 44 yards for an Eagles touchdown.
Minnesota responded with a touchdown drive that cut their deficit to only two points at halftime.
Vikings center Matt Birk said after the game that he was proud that his teammates refused to hang their heads following the interception.
"They made a play on defense, we came back 85, 90 yards to answer," Birk said. "When you show that kind of character again and again, I think that speaks to what kind of team you have. It's fun to be on a team like that." Despite the team's resilience after the turnover, the Vikings were unable to score in the second half. The running game -- the key to Minnesota's offense -- was stymied. Peterson, the league's leading rusher, had one big touchdown run but little else. His other 19 carries generated a total of 43 yards, only 17 in the second half.
Birk said the Philadelphia defense is among the best in football and the Vikings' attempts to wear them down were futile.
"You're not going to break a lot of runs against those guys, and we knew that," Birk said. "That's why we kept pounding them, pounding them, pounding them. We battled them. We just got down there in the fourth quarter and unfortunately made some mistakes. You're playing right into their hands when you're down two scores in the fourth quarter against those guys."
After a scoreless third quarter, Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook caught a short screen pass in the fourth quarter and broke free of the Minnesota defense for a 71-yard yard touchdown.
With the Vikings' vaunted ground game sputtering, the team tried an aerial attack, but Jackson completed only six of his 16 fourth-quarter passes.
Receiver Bobby Wade said by then, the Vikings had made it difficult for their young quarterback to succeed.
"It's tough when it's a passing situation -- when we're down and they know we have to pass the football. It's really tough for him, it'd be tough for anybody," Wade said. "It's tough for our offensive linemen to protect at that point; it's tough for him to make the right reads and get it to the right people. It's hard to put somebody in that position."
When Brad Childress was asked about Jackson's performance, the Vikings head coach said little and focused on the negative, referencing the interception that was returned for a touchdown.
"You hate to serve up seven points. You've got to take that out of your repertoire," Childress said.
Childress was non-commital about how Jackson might fit into plans for the 2009 Vikings, saying team executives will sit down to consider personnel decisions later in the off-season.
Wide receiver Bernard Berrian was upbeat about Jackson, emphasizing that his first playoff experience will be valuable for the 25-year-old signal-caller.
"He needed this today. The more experience a young quarterback gets, the better it's going to be for him. And just going back and looking back and reviewing the season as a whole, I think he can take a lot from it," Berrian said.
Peterson says he will take a lot from his first taste of the playoffs. He made the experience sound bittersweet -- describing the thrill of playing in the NFL playoffs as unparalleled, only to return to the pain of suffering a first-round home-field loss.
"It hurts. I'm hurting right now," Peterson said. "But, like I say, we want to take a lot from this. Learn. It's good to have this experience of being in the playoffs. So, we're just going to build from this and come back next year a stronger team and definitely do better."
When Childress was asked to put the season in context, he characterized the Vikings' 10 regular season wins and division championship as a good start -- clearly looking forward to hosting more playoff games in more seasons to come.
- Morning Edition, 01/05/2009, 6:20 a.m.