PHILADELPHIA — Most Eagles fans at sold-out Lincoln Financial Field wore worried looks in the first quarter Sunday night.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum dulled the crowd’s pregame roar with a 75-yard scoring drive on the first possession of the NFC championship.
There was practically silence when Keenum threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Kyle Rudolph to put the Vikings up 7-0 with 10 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Fans couldn’t be blamed if they began to remember previous Eagles home losses in the 2002 and 2003 NFC title games.
One play then changed everything.
Eagles slot corner Patrick Robinson intercepted a Keenum pass at the 50-yard line and returned it for a touchdown with 2:03 left in the first quarter.
“It’s a great team win. A great city win,” Robinson said after the game.
The play tied the score, shook Lincoln Financial Field and propeled the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia dominated from there and won 38-7.
“We’re not surprised at all,” said Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long, who hit Keenum on the interception. “They went up seven early. A lot of teams would have (panicked). Not us. We don’t panic. We just keep grinding.”
Eagles fans were clearly ready for Sunday’s game. They stood and roared when defensive back Malcolm Jenkins led the team out of the tunnel.
The fans waived white rally towels over their heads before the opening kickoff and Eagles linebacker Dannell Ellerbe urged the crowd to get louder.
The Vikings led 7-0 and had the ball third and eight at their own 43-yard line when Robinson changed the game.
Keenum dropped back to throw. Long hit him as he threw.
The ball fluttered right to Robinson, who made the interception in front of the Eagles’ bench.
Robinson started down the sideline. When he reached the Vikings’ 27, he cut to other side of the field, picked up a block from Ronald Darby and sprinted to the end zone.
“I just slipped up under (the receiver). The ball was fluttering. It was an easy pick for me.”
The Eagles signed Robinson, 30, and Long, 32, as free agents on the same day last year — March 28. It was a sign the team was serious about contending this season.
Robinson is in his eighth year. His career appeared to be in jeopardy before this season.
He played in just seven games for the Indianapolis Colts because of a groin injury in 2016. The Colts released him in early March.
Even after signing with the Eagles, Robinson struggled. He had never played slot corner before. Fans and media speculated that he could be released.
But Robinson found his way. He made a key interception in a 27-24 win over the New York Giants on Sept. 24. Robinson ended the season with a team-leading four interceptions.
Long also figured prominently in the Eagles’ second biggest defensive play of the game.
The Vikings trailed 14-7 in the second quarter and drove to the Eagles’ 16. On third and five, Keenum dropped back to pass. Derek Barnett hit Keenum and knocked the ball loose. Long recovered the fumble at the Eagles’ 24.
Long played in the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots last year. Robinson will be making his first trip.
Sunday’s game was lopsided in the fourth quarter and turned into a chance for players and fans to celebrate the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl since the New England Patriots beat the Eagles 24-21 in 2005.
Fans and players mocked the Vikings’ “Skol” chant throughout the final minutes.
The celebration ended with confetti in the air and the Eagles a win away from their first Super Bowl victory.