MINNEAPOLIS – Tom Brady throws for 505 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Allen had zero punts. Three Patriot receivers had over 115 receiving yards. Their first three drives of the second half go for touchdowns.
Another Super win for the Patriots, right?
Not on your quarterback touchdown receptions. Super Bowl LII featured each quarterback being targeted for a catch, two missed extra points, two missed two-point conversions, one total punt for the entire game, two touchdowns which needed replay scrutiny, and an NFL postseason record of most combined yards on offense by the two teams. The Philadelphia Eagles took an early lead, the Patriots rallied to take a fourth quarter lead, and right up until the end you the Patriot fan figured your team would win.
But in the end, the Eagles would not allow the Patriots to do what they do. A late touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Zack Ertz, followed by a strip sack of Brady by Brandon Graham, and a failed Hail Mary at the end gave the Eagles a 41-33 win over the Patriots, and their first NFL championship in 58 years at US Bank Stadium on Sunday night. The game was all set up for Brady to win it in the end, but Graham’s play (the fumble was recovered by Derek Barnett) shocked the entire football world.
The strip sack virtually sealed the win for the Eagles, but in the end the lasting impression from this game will be the sad fact that the Patriots did not have the material on defense to win this game. Allen did indeed not punt all game long, but Philadelphia themselves only punted once, and the Eagles scored on their last five possessions of the game.
Curiously, Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, did not play a single down in this game. Butler came to Minneapolis a day late, and apparently paid the price for it on Sunday by playing only on special teams. Butler was seen crying on the sideline during the National Anthem, and he perhaps will never play another game for the Patriots again.
His absence was a main reason for the porous defense, but not completely. Stephon Gilmore started the game covering Nelson Agholor, but later switched to Alshon Jeffery and shut him down for the rest of the game. But the other side was manned mostly by Eric Rowe, who got burned on several passes and gave up considerable yardage all game long.
Another telling stat was the run defense, or lack thereof. Former Patriot LeGarrette Blount scorched the Patriots for 90 yards on 14 carries and a 21-yard touchdown run. Former Dolphin Jay Ajayi had 57 yards on nine carries. As a team, Philadelphia averaged 6.1 rushing yards per carry. The potent rushing attack certainly helped to settle Foles down and remove any chance of him allowing the game to become too big for him.
Foles became the first backup quarterback in 27 years to win a Super Bowl, and he earned game MVP honors for his performance. He finished 28 of 43 passing for 373 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was 106.1. Agholor, who should have been covered by Butler, finished with nine catches for 84 yards, while running back Corey Clement had 100 receiving yards, mostly on two long passes, one of them for 22 yards and a touchdown which on replay looked like he stepped out of bounds before securing the catch, but the call stood.
Foles and the Eagles had their way against New England Sunday night.
Foles was also key in perhaps the most memorable play of the night for the Eagles. With 38 seconds left in the first half, facing fourth and goal at the Patriot 1, Foles lined up in shotgun formation. Clement took a direct snap, then handed off to Trey Burton on an end around left. Burton then lofted a pass to a wide open Foles in the right side of the end zone to make it 22-12 Eagles at the half. It was the first touchdown catch by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. Earlier in the quarter, Danny Amendola took a toss from Dion Lewis and tried to hit Brady in the right flat. Brady was wide open but the pass glanced off his fingertips.
With 9:26 left in the game, the Patriots took their first lead of the night when Brady found Gronkowski for a touchdown to make it 33-32 Patriots. Either the defense needed to make a stop, or Brady could bring the Patriots back to force overtime at worst.
But neither happened. On third down and six, Foles hit Ertz in the left flat for seven yards. Devin McCourty made a nice play on Torrey Smith on the next series to bring up fourth down and one at the Eagles 45. The Eagles were more or less forced to go for it on fourth down, but Foles again found Ertz for 2 yards and a first down. Agholor then caught three passes for 42 yards with three different safeties covering him instead of Butler. Meanwhile, the clock was running down, and it seemed a distinct possibility that Brady might not get the ball back with enough time.
On third down at 7 at the Patriot 11, Foles found Ertz for a touchdown, who caught the ball and bobbled it after he crossed the goal line. Ertz didn’t become the next Jesse James in that he was a runner and once he crossed the goal line, play over. Brady had 2:21 left, one timeout, and only a five-point deficit. You the Patriot fan shouldn’t have been worried.
On first down, Brady found Gronkowski for 8 yards. But on second down, the pocket collapsed, and Brady never saw Graham coming. He hit Brady’s arm and the ball squirted away, recovered by Barnett at the Patriot 31. The Patriots exhausted all their timeouts and the two-minute warning, and surrendered a 46-yard field goal by Jake Elliott.
Down eight with 58 seconds left, Brady managed to drive the Patriots to the 49 yard line. On the final play of the game, Brady heaved one to the end zone, but Gronkowski could not come up with the catch and the game was over.
Brady was 28 of 48 passing, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.4. Gronkowski had 116 yards receiving, Amendola had 152 and Chris Hogan had 128. The Patriots as a team did average 5.1 yards per carry on the ground, but the ground game was inconsequential for the Patriots. Brady enjoyed a wonderful evening, right up until the strip sack.
This game may be franchise-altering for the Patriots. Both coordinators, Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels, are reportedly off to Detroit and Indianapolis respectively. Gronkowski said in his postgame presser that he will not commit to playing next season, indicating he may be contemplating retirement. Butler said “They gave up on me, (expletive), it is what it is!” when asked why he didn’t play, and he most certainly is out the door. Brady won the MVP at age 40 but came up a game short in his quest for one more title. And of course, if Bill Belichick is truly upset at having to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, Camelot in Foxborough may be over.
For now, Philadelphia finally gets their Super Bowl, the city gets a rare sports championship, and they wound up winning it all with Carson Wentz on the sidelines. They deserved to win and can party to their heart’s content.
The Patriots now need to be really champion-like and gun up for next year. The next few days for the Patriots are going to be interesting, for sure.