Sleeves, underdogs and miracles: The incredible story of how Eagles and Vikings pushed each other to NFC Championship Game

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The Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. Nick Foles and Case Keenum. Two franchises and two quarterbacks whose Super Bowl paths have intertwined again and again over the last few years, culminating in a showdown for the NFC Championship and a shot at the grandest prize of all.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The year was 2009. The St. Louis Rams selected Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the hopes that his beautiful deep pass would save a flailing offense. His offensive coordinator for the 2010 season would be none other than Pat Shurmur. Bradford would get to know Shurmur very well and after winning NFL offensive rookie of the year, the rollercoaster began.

We all know what happened next. Incredible play was erased and replaced with the memory of two heartbreaking ACL tears, leaving the Rams in a very uneasy position. When healthy, Bradford would light up the stat sheet and ended both years where he played in all 16 games for the Rams with no less than 59.5% of his passes completed. But health was the problem.

In January of 2013, Bradford’s offensive coordinator left for midnight green pastures. Pat Shurmur joined the Philadelphia Eagles and helped Chip Kelly create one of the most explosive offenses in league history. This was also the first time that Nick Foles is inserted into this story.

The historic season of Foles surged the Eagles into a playoff spot. Seven touchdowns against the Raiders? Check. Shurmur was no stranger to developing quarterbacks, just ask Donovan McNabb, whom he coached as the Eagles QB coach several years ago. It looked as if that same ability would aid the development of second-year quarterback Nick Foles.


Foles enjoyed a breakout season in 2013, slinging 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions while posting the third-best QB rating (119.2) and third-lowest interception percentage in NFL history. During this time however, the next piece of the puzzle entered the fray.

Case Keenum started his career on the Texans practice squad in 2012 after going undrafted. One season later, he went 0-8 as a starter for the Texans, but would win two games as a backup next season. Then came 2015…perhaps the most fateful year of all.

The Eagles pulled the trigger on a huge trade. Sam Bradford would reunite with Pat Shurmur in Philadelphia, while Nick Foles, who seemed to be a shadow of his former self, would try his luck with Jeff Fisher and the Rams. While Bradford picked up where he left off after missing most of the offseason due to rehab, those ‘last seven games’ will forever be debated as a stretch that will go down as ‘what if?’ Because if he wasn’t injury prone, Bradford had the potential to play at an elite level.

Meanwhile, in L.A., Nick Foles was benched halfway through the season, with none other than Case Keenum starting the remaining six games and winning three of them. The regression of Foles continued. What began to plague his play in Philadelphia would haunt him with the Rams an ultimately, it led Foles to reconsider his entire career, with the signal-caller debating retirement.

But then both franchises did something unprecedented that would change their franchises forever. After a rollercoaster offseason, the two top quarterbacks in the draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz would find themselves being selected by the Rams and Eagles respectively. This in itself caused a minor ripple in Philadelphia.

 

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Sam Bradford, who had just signed a new deal, was understandably livid and refused to attend voluntary workouts. When Training camp rolled around and the race picked up, Bradford looked set to make a statement….until Howie Roseman made one of his own.

With Teddy Bridgewater injured, the Vikings desperately needed quarterback help…and who better than the NFL’s most accurate passer from 2016? Bradford was sent to Minnesota in exchange for the first round pick given up to acquire Carson Wentz.

Surprisingly, Bradford would again reunite with Pat Shurmur, who at the time was the tight ends coach for the Vikings and would later rise to offensive coordinator. After the Chip Kelly regime came to a bitter end, Shurmur became a purple people eater…and Sam Bradford would follow suit again.

Meanwhile, Case Keenum was also enduring a controversy of his own. Keeping the seat warm for Jared Goff, Keenum had all the pressure on his shoulders in 2016, with Goff not ready to start…until he was. Keenum went 4-5 as a starter in 2016 before the Rams handed the reins over to the future of the franchise. The future of Case Keenum on the other hand, was up in the air.

But then perhaps a twist of fate. Keenum would sign a one-year deal with the Vikings. Teddy Bridgewater was not yet ready to return to action and the Vikings needed a viable backup behind Bradford.

Sammy sleeves started the season red-hot, completing 27/32 pass attempts and throwing three touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints. But when Bradford’s injured knee flared up, it made for one of the most miraculous stories in NFL history. Case Keenum took to the field as Shurmur adapted his offense for the experienced quarterback and with each passing week, the Vikings looked more and more dangerous.

The Vikes defense ranked 32nd in rushing and 28th in yards per game just one season prior to the absolute wizardry that we have seen this season. Case Keenum is no longer just a backup. He’s an extremely serviceable and accurate quarterback who has blossomed in Minnesota. With 67.6% of his passes complete this season for 22 touchdowns and 7 picks, Keenum has exploded in production and after perhaps the most incredible playoff win in recent memory, he now faces a familiar opponent.

Nick Foles.

We all know the story. After Carson Wentz heartbreakingly went down with a torn ACL, Nick Foles returned to his post as Eagles quarterback. Foles formerly spent time in Kansas City under Doug Pederson as a backup to Alex Smith after being exiled from the Rams and would follow Pederson home to Philadelphia. After all, it was Pederson who rallied to bring him in as a rookie to begin with.

Foles put the Eagles offense on his back against his and Keenum’s former team to guide them to a win. A bumpy road since then has led both teams to an NFC Championship game. Foles led the Eagles to a stunning win over Atlanta and Keenum took the breath of everybody away with his last-gasp completion to Steffon Diggs that secured the win for New Orleans.

Franchise quarterbacks, coaches, coordinators and draft picks. This is the most incredible tale of ups, downs and the most surreal circumstances all unfolding. The NFC Championship game. Case Keenum. Nick Foles. Two quarterbacks who will forever be intertwined, will now duel against one another for a shot at the ultimate prize.

 

 

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