For all the talk about the Patriots' mystique, the next-level football that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were perpetrating against the rest of the league, the reality is that New England didn't blow opponents out in the Super Bowl. In their seven trips this century, the Patriots' largest margin of victory was six points and that came a year ago in their improbable 25-point comeback against the Falcons. In fact, you could make an easy argument that their 5-2 record could have just as easily been 2-5.
Conventional wisdom said the Patriots were heavy favorites in Super Bowl LII, but the Eagles never bought into it, and found a way to win, 41-33, even as Brady was throwing for 505 yards. When it was over, Philly has its first Lombardi Trophy after doing what Atlanta couldn't do a season ago: Show up in the fourth quarter and harass Brady into looking like a replacement-level quarterback. In fact, the last time we saw Brady that rattled during the game's most critical series was a decade ago when the Giants had battered him so relentlessly that he was seeing ghosts.
Super Bowl Week lends too much time for way too many storylines, but one of the most popular was that Eagles second-year coach Doug Pederson didn't deserve to breathe the same air as Belichick. And maybe Belichick smokes Pederson on an IQ test but on Sunday night, Pederson coached circles around him. Risk-aversion is one of the hallmarks of NFL coaches, but Pederson, who has been aggressive all season, didn't change in the Super Bowl.
With 38 seconds to go in the first half, the Eagles leading 15-12 and facing a 4th and goal from the Patriots' 2-yard line, Pederson didn't hesitate. Not only did he pass up an easy field goal, he called this play in the most important game of the season:
We'd like to think Pederson was thinking this: "Look, the Patriots are getting the ball back to start the second half, and no team is better at halftime adjustments than they are. If we settle for a field goal here and go up 18-12, Brady's going to march his guys down the field, score a touchdown, and we're going to be behind. [Forget] that noise."
By the way, no team is better at halftime adjustments than New England. And guess what? After Rob Gronkowski was held to just one catch for nine yards in the first half, here's now the Pats' first drive of the third quarter unfolded: 8 plays, 75 yards, Gronk was targeted five times, he caught five passes for 68 of those yards, including — you guessed it — a touchdown:
In fact, after scoring on two of five drives in the first half, New England scored touchdowns on its first three drives of the second half and led 33-32 with just under five minutes to go. But as the old saying goes, you can't leave Nick Foles that much time.
No one says that, of course, but it's true.
Foles led a 14-play, 75-yard drive that included a big third-down conversion to Zach Ertz, and a few plays later, an even bigger fourth-down conversion to Ertz. And fittingly, it was Ertz who capped off the drive with what proved to be the game-winning touchdown:
For real though, the Eagles really did leave Brady too much time. Ertz scored with 2:21 remaining and if you were on Twitter, you heard countless variations of "Well, I've seen this movie."
Fun fact: Last year at the combine, the Eagles won a coin toss with the Colts to determine which team would pick 14th overall in the draft. With that pick, Philly took Barnett.
Then, four plays later, rookie kicker Jake Elliott smoked a 46-yarder to make it 38-33 and with 65 seconds left, the Eagles hung on for dear life. Brady got the Patriots to midfield, and on the final play, ducked a sack, stepped up in the pocket, and heaved the ball some 55 yards towards the end zone. In what felt like an eternity but was only nine seconds, the ball, after pinballing between players, finally fell harmlessly to the turf.
Game over, the Eagles are your Super Bowl champs.
There were all sorts of records set on Sunday
Every year we talk about how This Is the Best Super Bowl Ever. There have been better Super Bowls, perhaps, but this was, without question, one of the most exciting. And we have the stats to prove it.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected for 12 postseason touchdowns (including 2 tonight), tying Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most by a QB/receiver duo in NFL history— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 5, 2018
In Super Bowl LII, the Patriots allowed their most points (41) and total yards (538) of any playoff game under Bill Belichick— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 5, 2018
And most importantly:
Perhaps we should have known the Patriots weren't shoo-ins
That's easy to say now (though, to our credit, we picked the Eagles to win), but there were indicators that history wasn't dismissing the Eagles outright.
Players to win Super Bowl MVP and regular season MVP the same season: Bart Starr 1966, Terry Bradshaw 1978, Joe Montana 1989, Emmitt Smith 1993, Steve Young 1994, Kurt Warner 1999.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) February 4, 2018
Can Tom Brady be the seventh?
Brady has a lot of dragons he can slay tomorrow:— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) February 4, 2018
*NFL MVP’s are 0-8 in the Super Bowl this century
*Regular season passing yardage leaders are 0-5 all time in the Super Bowl
When Doug Pederson played in the NFL, he appeared in 4 games vs. New England & his teams went 4-0. He only started once at QB in those games, completing 20 of 37 passes for 138 yards and a TD in Cleveland's 19-11 win on Nov. 12, 2000. I was actually at that game in the stands.— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) February 4, 2018
The Patriots have never won a Super Bowl when winning the coin toss. This is just the third time the Patriots have won a coin toss in 10 Super Bowl appearances (also won toss in Super Bowl XXXI and XLVI)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 4, 2018
Thank God the officials didn't make the game about them
Referee Gene Steratore proved that he was the right man for Super Bowl LII for two reasons:
1. First, he, along with head of officiating Al Riveron, opted for common sense over needless controversy. The first test came midway through the 3rd quarter on this dime from Foles to Corey Clement:
At any other point this season, Riveron is calling that an incomplete pass. But we think there isn't enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, which was a touchdown. It's certainly fair to point out that Riveron's lack of consistency on what is and isn't a catch remains maddening, but in our minds, five months worth of stupid reasons for justifying even stupider rules doesn't justify prolonging the stupidity.
2. The next questionable play came on Ertz's game-winning touchdown catch-and-lunge:
This is a touchdown. There is no debate. But because the NFL's rules are so tedious, and because we saw the officials overturn a similar play in Week 15, when Steelers tight end Jesse James "didn't survive the ground" in what would have been a game-deciding score against the Patriots, everyone's knee-jerk reaction was that Ertz didn't "complete the catch." But he did. He took three-and-a-half steps before diving into the end zone. He broke the plane, then bobbled the ball once he hit the turf -- and after he scored.
That's six points all day long. And thanks to Steratore for acknowledging as much.
We can't say enough about Nick Foles
For us, the funny thing about this the lead up to this game was that we never worried that Foles would be a liability. Yes, he held a clipboard until mid-December, and looked pedestrian in his three subsequent regular-season starts. But he flipped a switch in the postseason.
Against the Falcons and then the Vikings in the playoffs, Foles' performance varied between efficient and spectacular; he completed 78 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, no turnovers and a passer rating of 122.1 (including a 141.4 rating against Minnesota). And even though history suggested that mind-blowing performances in one playoff game game didn't predict subsequent postseason success, Foles didn't care. Because against the Patriots he kept on keeping on, going 28 of 43 for 373 yards with 3 touchdowns, an interception (that came on a deflection) and a passer rating of 106.1.
It's fair to wonder if Carson Wentz could've duplicated this kind of postseason success though it doesn't matter. Foles is the Super Bowl MVP and the Eagles are world champs.