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Sent back toreality

Eagles dominate divisional playoff game

Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Mi4nnesota Vikings had embraced their rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles, confident they could avenge a Sept. 20 loss to the NFC's top team and affirm they belonged in the playoffs despite their feeble finish to the regular season.

A convincing 31-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Jan. 9 erased their miserable 3-7 finish and flamed hopes of becoming the first 8-8 team to advance to the Super Bowl. But in a fitting finish to their turbulent season, the Vikings' grandiose plans were grounded by the Eagles.

Philadelphia (14-3) led from start to finish in a 27-14 victory in front of 67,722 fans at Lincoln Financial Field to advance to their fourth consecutive conference championship game. They'll meet Atlanta (12-5) here Sunday for the right to be the NFC's Super Bowl representative.

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"When you play a good football team on the road, you can't leave some opportunities on the field," Vikings coach Mike Tice said.

"We didn't finish anything," he later added, and the Vikings can at least partly attribute that to a terrible start. Although they hadn't played a meaningful game in nearly a month, the Eagles dominated the first quarter.

On their first two drives, the Vikings gained nary a first down and only 5 yards. Consequently, receiver Randy Moss did not get a chance to perform an encore to his controversial touchdown celebration in Green Bay, when he mock-mooned fans at Lambeau Field. Instead, he was upstaged by Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell.

After catching a 2-yard touchdown with about six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Mitchell celebrated by mocking Moss. After his catch, he pretended to pull up his pants and buckle his belt.

The Vikings' offense never got much of anything going.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper completed only 2 of 7 first-quarter passes for 8 yards and looked rattled by the Eagles' schemes -- and 15-mph winds that made the announced temperature of 31 degrees feel like half that. Several of his early passes were short of their target. For the game, Culpepper completed 24 of 46 passes for 316 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

"I thought the defense did a heck of a job (against a) very, very explosive offense, probably the best offense in the National Football League right now," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "(Our defense) came out and really took it to them."

In the locker room, the Vikings lamented the end, but many expressed a belief that it was not a lost season.

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"It was a roller coaster of a season," center Matt Birk said. "But we have a lot of things that we will be able to build on. I think that we did take a step forward from last season."

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