Unless you have a thing for immovable defenses that smother the offense and slow the competition into an exhausting grapple, Super Bowl LII was one of the best games ever played.
The 52nd game in SB history was the opposite of dull. It was delirious. Philadelphia’s entertaining 41-33 victory over the New England colony led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady raised the anxiety level for the losing team. It was a game, a loss, that felt like … change.
The Patriots’ best days will be prepared for display in a museum exhibition. They’re still very good, and a total collapse of the House of Foxborough is highly unlikely with Belichick coaching and Brady leading. But the coach will be 66 in April, and Brady crosses into age 41 come August.
The Belichick Patriots already had lost two Super Bowls, both to the New York Giants. But the defeats had fluky moments, weird plays and a few Eli Manning magic tricks that provided the Giants with the needed momentum to win two close encounters.
Philly’s demolition of New England’s defense was stunning. If someone had told you before the game that Brady would pass for 505 yards and three touchdowns and lead his offense to 613 yards and 33 points … well, there’s virtually no chance of Philadelphia winning this one, right? Since Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001, the Patriots before Sunday were 99-3 when they put up 33+ points in a regular season of postseason game.
And according to Pro Football Talk, no quarterback in NFL history had ever lost a game in which he passed for 500+ yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady became the first such victim because of Philadelphia’s creative, aggressive and daring attack.
In part, here’s how the Eagles were able to get it done:
1. Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is fearless. And you can’t play scared against the Patriots. Atlanta made that mistake in blowing a 25-point lead and losing to New England in Super Bowl 51, and Jacksonville handed this season’s AFC championship to the Patriots because of timid play calling while up by 10. Pederson will go for it on fourth down (48 times this season.) Unlike many conservative or cowering coaches, he’ll take a risk and run a trick play for a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. Pederson just never lets up, and that confidence permeates his Eagles. Pederson designs brilliant plays. He’s a quarterback cognoscente.
2. Pederson out-coached Belichick. Period. Pederson’s edgy attitude and sharp aptitude made a difference in the coaching battle, with Philadelphia plundering New England’s defense for 538 yards and 41 points. Since taking over in 2000, Belichick has coached the Patriots for 325 games, including postseason … and Philly’s 538 yards were the most ever against a Belichick defense. Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia had solution for cooling Pederson’s mania.
Quarterback Nick Foles passed for 374 yards and three touchdowns and caught a TD on Pederson’s trick play. Eagles running backs combined for 255 rushing-receiving yards and two touchdowns, and I don’t think the Patriots were expecting to see so much of young RB Corey Clement, who had four catches for 100 yards and a big touchdown.
Foles established terrific balance in how he mapped hos throws, attempting 17 passes to the left side, 19 to the right side, and working the middle to keep the Patriots honest. The football was flying in so many directions, distributed to so many Eagles, it must have made the it Patriots dizzy. .
In winning the NFC Championship with a beatdown of Minnesota, then taking the Lombardi Trophy out of the Patriots’ grip, this is what the Pederson offense did to a pair highly respected defenses: an average of 39.5 points and 497 yards per game.
Pederson was Brett Favre’s longtime backup in Green Bay. Pederson was developed as a coach by Andy Reid. When it comes to calling plays and never backing off, Pederson comes out of the Favre school. You don’t see Pederson playing it too safe of getting uptight in big games.
In a controversial move Belichick benched cornerback Malcolm Butler, who saved a Super Bowl victory for New England over Seattle with his goal-line interception of a Russell Wilson pass. Butler has struggled in coverage this season; quarterbacks posted a 103.3 rating when targeting the receiver being covered by Butler. Maybe there is something more to this than a football benching. But Eric Rowe — given Butler’s spot in the lineup — had a rough game. Foles completed 6 of 9 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown (131.3) when throwing at Rowe.
3. Nick Foles, the exile from Rams Park, completed the greatest football month of his life by out-dueling Brady. First, let’s just talk about the numbers produced by Foles in his three postseason starts that ended with the Super Bowl championship. With starting quarterback Carson Wentz healing from knee surgery, Foles went 3-0 in beating Atlanta, Minnesota and New England. He completed 72.6 percent of his throws. He averaged 9.16 yards per attempt. He averaged 324 air yards per game, with 9 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Passer rating: 115.7. With Pederson’s mind and Foles’ accuracy, the Eagles were outstanding at converting third downs in the three wins, and Foles was at his best in those situations, connecting on 26 of 32 passes (81.3%), with 4 touchdowns and no INTs and a passer rating of 158.1 He played very well in the fourth quarter. He was solid in the red zone. He threw well when under pass-rush pressure.
And Foles handled the mental pressure more than anyone anticipated. I’ll give you an example. In Sunday’s game, the Patriots had just cut the Eagles’ lead to three points late in the third quarter. Brady was on fire, determined to lead New England to another memorable comeback. Foles and Philly could not mess up, could not fail, could not give Brady the game. One major screwup, and New England would jump through the opening and win again. Foles had to match up with Brady without flinching. Foles had to deliver a response to every positive possession by Brady.
Foles was resolute. On their final four possessions the Eagles went TD, field goal, TD, field goal. Foles was 12 for 15 for 105 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks, and a rating of 135.4. When Brady hooked up with tight end Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown pass that gave the Patriots a 33-32 lead with 9:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, Foles answered by guiding the Eagles on a lengthy drive — converting a critical 4th and 1 along the way — and hitting his own tight end Zach Ertz for the winning touchdown pass with 2 minutes 21 seconds remaining.
Was this the same Nick Foles who had a 43 passer rating with no touchdowns and 5 interceptions in his final four starts for the 2015 St. Louis Rams before getting benched late in the season? Coaching matters.
I didn’t pick the Eagles to win, but that doesn’t matter to me.
A wonderful Super Bowl was enough of a payout for me.
Thanks for reading …