If you're hoping Super Bowl LII is somehow even crazier than last year's title game -- when the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit in the second half to force the first Super Bowl overtime before winning on a walk-off touchdown -- then this is the story for you.
This is a story about the
craziest Super Bowl in NFL history the craziest championship game in sports history. The game itself might not have been real (it wasn't), but it really was the craziest, most unpredictable game I've watched with my own two eyes (seriously).
I promise, this isn't hyperbole. CBSSports.com's official "Madden NFL 18" simulation of Super Bowl LII really was nuts. It was almost like the game became self-aware, realized this would be the only simulated game I would watch all year long, and in an attempt to charm me into watching more games down the line, overcompensated by stuffing every possible outcome and scenario into the simulated Super Bowl.
Well, it worked. I certainly didn't expect to enjoy this assignment as much as I did. When I fired up "Madden" on my PlayStation 4 on Saturday to simulate Super Bowl LII between the Patriots and the Eagles, I dreaded having to watch the artificial-intelligence-controlled versions of the two teams play a full football game. Boy, was I wrong. My only thought as I watched the simulation unfold?
Thank God I'm not actually covering this game on deadline.
Well, that and: Man, Bill Belichick looks a whole lot different in this game.
Before I get to the simulation itself, there's something important I need to say: "Madden" simulations might be inherently dumb (they are), but that doesn't mean they can't tell the future -- or at least, a nearly accurate version of the future. For instance, my colleague, Will Brinson, ran a "Madden" simulation before the 2016 regular season. In that simulation, the Falcons won the Super Bowl. At the time, most scoffed and laughed at the notion. And then the Falcons journeyed all the way to the Super Bowl before they became the butt of every joke by blowing what should've been an insurmountable lead to the Patriots.
So no, Brinson's simulation didn't totally pan out, but another one did: Before that Super Bowl, I simulated the matchup, and lo and behold, the Patriots beat the Falcons with a second-half explosion of points, which should sound familiar.
The point being, "Madden" simulations can be good. This one was.
Find out what SportsLine's advanced computer model has to say about the final score of Super Bowl LII.
OK, onto the simulation. The recap of the first three quarters is going to be brief and pretty standard, but don't worry, the drama begins in the fourth quarter.
With that, let's go to the tape.
The Eagles started with the football and drove right down the field to the Patriots' 1-yard line, but settled for a field goal. Their defense then forced the Patriots to punt, but on the ensuing possession, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler forced a fumble. The Patriots took over near midfield.
Score: Eagles 3, Patriots 0
The Patriots cashed in off the turnover. On third-and-goal, Patriots running back Dion Lewis used a spin move that really was straight out of "Madden" to breach the goal line, giving the Patriots a 7-3 lead.
The Patriots would tack on a field goal. But the Eagles responded when quarterback Nick Foles hooked up with Zach Ertz for a tying touchdown on third-and-goal in the final minute of the half.
But these are the Patriots -- a team that has mastered the art of scoring at the end of the half. Tom Brady mustered a 55-second scoring drive capped by Stephen Gostkowski's right leg, which drilled home a 58-yard field goal as time expired.
Score: Patriots 13, Eagles 10
The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and added another field goal, extending their lead to six points. After the New England defense forced a punt, Brady hit Chris Hogan for a touchdown and then Brandin Cooks for the two-point conversion.
The Patriots took a commanding two-touchdown lead into the fourth quarter. The game was over, right?
Score: Patriots 24, Eagles 10
Fourth quarter (chaos ensues)
This game should've been over. I was bored, ready to write my standard recap of a thorough Patriots win -- the result I expected considering Brady himself is on the cover of the game.
But I was wrong, so wrong. This was not going to go the way I thought.
The Eagles trimmed the Patriots' lead to 11 points by kicking a field goal on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Why Doug Pederson didn't go for the first down given the situation is beyond me, but maybe he foresaw how the rest of the quarter would proceed (unlikely).
The Patriots could ice the game with a touchdown. Instead, Brady threw a pick to Eagles safety Rodney McLeod.
With 11:35 showing on the game clock, the Eagles took over in Patriots territory. Less than two minutes later, the Eagles reached the end zone via Jay Ajayi. On the two-point conversion to cut the lead to three points, Foles connected with Ertz in the flat for a walk-in score.
We had a three-point game at 24-21. My interest was piqued. The Eagles overcoming a two-touchdown deficit against the Patriots -- aka the Eagles Brady-ing Brady himself? I was all-in.
Give me the narrative, damn it.
Sure enough, the Eagles' defense generated a three-and-out. Foles was going to get his chance to lead a go-ahead or game-tying drive with roughly 5:30 to go. He didn't get that chance, but only because the Eagles' special teams came up with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. With 5:24 left in the Super Bowl, the Eagles took a 28-24 lead on a blocked punt, completing a double-digit fourth-quarter comeback against the Patriots.
But then I remembered something, rather someone: Tom Brady. I wouldn't be foolish enough to count him out. Even after Chris Hogan dropped what would've been about a 60-yard touchdown on third-and-long and the Patriots punted the ball back to the Eagles, I never stopped believing in the power of Brady.
Never count out Touchdown Tom.
The Patriots' defense finally forced a punt on the other side of the two-minute warning. Even when Eagles punter Donnie Jones boomed a punt that was downed inside the 1-yard line, I never gave up hope. Brady was going to Brady the Eagles, wasn't he? He was going to drive the Patriots 99 yards with one timeout and 1:46 remaining in the game to win his sixth Super Bowl, right? The game was setting up Brady for the greatest game-winning drive in NFL history, wasn't it?
The answer to those questions: An 87-yard touchdown to Cooks with a minute left.
The Patriots led 30-28 when they lined up for the extra point. But the chaos was far from over. After the play was over, the game was tied at 30-30. Tied!
The Eagles blocked the extra point. Malcolm Jenkins scooped up the loose ball, dodged Brian Hoyer (who did his best Brady tackling impression), and returned it the other way for the tying two points with less than a minute remaining in the Super Bowl.
You can't make this up. Here it is, the moment the Eagles tied the Super Bowl with a blocked extra point return in the final minute:
To make matters worse for the Patriots, the Eagles then had a chance to win the game. But they stopped them near midfield, which meant only one thing: Overtime, again.
Before we get to overtime, I would just like to review the events from above:
- The Patriots led 24-10 in the fourth quarter.
- The Eagles scored 18 unanswered to take a 28-24 lead with the final seven points coming on a blocked punt.
- The Patriots completed a go-ahead 99-yard drive with an 87-yard touchdown in the final minute, taking a 30-28 lead.
- The Eagles blocked the extra point and returned it the other way to tie the game.
Once again: Holy crap.
Score: Patriots 30, Eagles 30
The Patriots won the coin toss and took the ball, but went three-and-out. The Eagles drove to the edge of field goal range and had a decision to make on fourth-and-1 at the 41-yard line: Go for the first down or kick a 58-yard field goal (the same distance as Gostkowski's made field goal at the end of the first half). Pederson chose to kick it.
Jake Elliott missed.
The Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl since 2001 and their second straight walk-off championship when Brady hit Danny Amendola for a 52-yard touchdown up the middle of the field. In the process, the Eagles learned something every team learns by playing the Patriots: If you give Brady a clean pocket, he'll disembowel you.
Take it away, Dola:
Final score: Patriots 36, Eagles 30
MVP and final statistics
Brady won MVP by completing 31 of his 43 passes for 397 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 114.2 passer rating. It's worth noting that 139 of his yards came on his final two touchdowns. Up until that point, he really wasn't all that great. But this is Brady we're talking about. It's certainly not the first time he has overcome a poor start to rally his team to victory.
Lewis, like James White before him, could've won MVP if not for Brady's end-of-game heroics. He picked up 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 28 carries (4.6 yards per carry). Meanwhile, Cooks exploded for 128 yards on six catches with 87 of his yards coming on that fourth-quarter touchdown that should've been the winning score.
For the Eagles, Foles played as well as they could've hoped, going 18 of 33 for 261 yards, one touchdown, no picks and a 90.6 passer rating. Like Lewis, Ajayi averaged 4.6 yards per carry, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Here are the final team statistics.
That's right: The game itself got so confused by the blocked extra-point shenanigans, one of the two scoreboards above reads 36-28 instead of 36-30, which isn't even possible.
Not pictured: The Patriots went a productive 11 of 18 on third down. And for all the conspiracy theorists out there who surprisingly think the league (which once suspended Brady four games and took away two draft picks and a million bucks from the Patriots for using under-inflated footballs in a 45-7 win) rigs the games for the Patriots to win, both teams picked up three penalties for 30 yards (Eagles) and 25 yards (Patriots).
So there you have it: The Patriots won the Super Bowl in even crazier fashion than their victory a year ago. It's a story so improbable, it can only exist in fiction, right? Right.
Then again, no one thought a team could ever engineer a 25-point second-half comeback in the Super Bowl until the Patriots -- a team quarterbacked by a former sixth-round pick -- did it a year ago. No one thought the Patriots could stop the Seahawks at the 1-yard line until Butler pulled off the greatest interception in NFL history. No one thought Eli Manning could've thrown the ball of his life to Mario Manningham to stun the Patriots until he did it. No one thought the Giants could beat the unbeatable Patriots until David Tyree came down with the helmet catch. No one thought the Patriots could shock the Rams way back in 2001 until Adam Vinatieri nailed the walk-off kick.
The point being, crazy stuff tends to happen in Super Bowls that involve the Patriots. Stay tuned.