New England Patriots 33 versus Philadelphia Eagles 41 – It seems like every year the Greatest Super Bowl Ever Played is presented to us and Super Bowl LII delivered this year. However, I feel liked Super Bowl XLII, XLIII, XLV, XLVII, XLIX, and LI were all games that came down to the final moments and they could also be considered among the Greatest Super Bowl Ever Played. Clearly not every close Super Bowl can be the greatest, because there can only be one game that fits that criteria. It is a testament to how balanced the two conferences have been over the last decade. The result has been a string of incredible Super Bowls that seem to top the previous year’s game.
This has not always been the case in previous Super Bowls. From the 1982 season to 1996 season, the winning team won by 10 or more points in 12 of the 14 Super Bowls. The only dramatic games were Super Bowl XIII (San Francisco 49ers 20 vs. Cincinnati Bengals 16) and Super Bowl XXV (New York Giants 20 vs. Buffalo Bills 19). We should be happy about how competitive the games have been in recent years, because there have been decades where the blowout in the Super Bowl has been the norm.
This Super Bowl defied belief. I do not know where it ranks among the all-time great games, but it was definitely the best offensive performance by two teams in Super Bowl history. When you think about teams in the Super Bowl, you think about the offenses starting slow and feeling out their opponent.
That was not the case in this game, the first half was an offensive shootout with both teams combining for 673 total yards and both surpassed 300 yards in the first half. That offensive dominance continued in the second half. They set the record for most yards gained in a postseason game with 1,151 combined yards. The Eagles finished the game with 538 yards and the Patriots gained 613 yards. The 74 points scored in the game was one-point short of the 75 points scored by the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. The 49ers won that game by a score of 49-26, this game was much more competitive.
There were a lot of points left on the field by both teams. New England settled for two field goals and missed another one, which was a reason the Philadelphia Eagles led by 10 points at half time. They also failed to convert on a fourth down, after QB Tom Brady dropped a wide-open pass on third down in Eagles territory. The Patriots gained 350 yards in the first half, but only had a touchdown and two field goals to show for it. That came back to hurt them later in the game, when they had to play catch up the entire second half.
The story for the Eagles in the first half was big plays on offense. RB LeGarrette Blount had a 36-yard run for a touchdown. RB Jay Ajayi had a 26-yard run, RB Corey Clement had a 55-yard reception and WR Alshon Jeffery had a 34-yard touchdown reception. The result was the Eagles gained 323 yards in the first half. They also tallied 12 first downs and they were five for eight on third down. However, they left points on the field by missing an extra point and failing on a two-point conversion.
No play call though was as big as the fourth and one late in the second quarter. New England trailed 15-6 in the game, but in typical fashion, the Patriots responded right before the half with a drive that went seven plays for 90 yards and cut the score to 15-12. The Eagles responded by driving the length of the field, but ended up in a fourth and one situation. They probably should have settled for the field goal. Not only did they go for it, but they ran a trick play that ended up having backup TE Trey Burton throw a pass to QB Nick Foles. That resulted in the Eagles scoring touchdown and taking a 10-point lead into the half. Had they not scored a touchdown there, this could have been a much different game. The Patriots could have used that momentum to score before the half or at the very least they would have been down by only three points in a game where their defense was torched in the first half.
The Eagles really impressed me in this game on so many levels. They were aggressive in their play calling, but they always seemed to make the right call. Head Coach Doug Pederson was aggressive, but not in a reckless way. However, that tends to be a Monday Morning Quarterback observation. Successful gambles are viewed as intuitive play calling and ones that do not work are reckless calls that came back to cost the losing team. Had that tight end pass not worked and the Eagles go on to lose the game, Pederson is viewed differently after the game is over. That was a big gamble and it will go down as one of the gutsiest play calls by a winning team in NFL history.
Keep in mind that he did not have his starting quarterback, Carson Wentz for this game. He could have tried to run the ball, shorten the game and play it close to the vest. He had faith in his backup and not having Wentz did not stop him from having QB Nick Foles go 28 for 44 for 373 yards, three touchdowns, one pick and a QB rating of 106.1. Pederson continued to throw the ball with his backup quarterback and that gamble paid off, because the Eagles needed all of their 41 points to win this game. He did not hide his backup, he showcased him and the result was one of the best offensive performances in Super Bowl history. I did not think they could beat the Patriots in a shootout and they would have to hold the Patriots to under 20 points to win the game. They not only won a shootout with the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but they did so with their backup quarterback.
Foles made himself a lot of money in this game. While he is under contract for 2018 with the Eagles, he is due $4 million with a $3 million roster bonus. There will be several teams that will want to trade for him to make him their starter in 2018. Foles did not just have one miracle game in the postseason. His QB ratings in the three games were 106.0, 141.1 and 100.1. He had six touchdowns and just one pick in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. He did what nobody thought he could do, save the Eagles season after Wentz tore up his knee in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. He showed that with the right coaching and the right system, he could be a very good starter in the biggest games against the best teams in the league.
The 1990 New York Giants were able to overcome an injury late in the regular season to their starting quarterback, Phil Simms, but they did that with an impressive defensive showing. The Giants won despite scoring 31, 15 and 20 points in their three playoff wins. Scoring 20 points or less is usually a recipe for losing in the postseason. They won by playing ball control football and stingy defense, not throwing the ball all over the field. They threw for 94, 159 and 214 yards in the postseason. QB Jeff Hostetler managed the playoff games by throwing no interceptions in the playoffs. He had three touchdowns in that postseason; Foles had three touchdown passes in both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
The Eagles have an incredible chance to repeat. They have 44 players signed through next year, 32 players signed through 2019 and 18 players signed through 2020, if you count players with a team option for that season. They will have some tough decisions with the salary cap, as they are over their projected 2018 and 2019 cap figures, but they have some older veteran players they could move on from and as long as they draft solid replacements, they should be in a position to compete for the Super Bowl at least through 2020.
The future is bright in Philadelphia. Wentz was having a MVP season before he tore his knee. He should be ready to go next year and if he is not ready, they have a very good backup that just won the Super Bowl LII MVP Award and who was the star of the postseason. They have a head coach that has shown to be among the best at play calls and managing situations with both a MVP candidate and a backup behind center. They just beat the best dynasty in the NFL over the last 20 years.
It is a fantastic accomplishment for the Eagles. Everyone said their season was done with Wentz gone and instead they beat the best quarterback and head-coaching duo in NFL history. They were overlooked the entire postseason and the injury to Wentz was supposed to be their undoing. Instead, they rallied around Foles and won the Lombardi Trophy. The Eagles have ended a NFL Championship drought that goes back to 1960. There has to be extreme satisfaction in winning this title and a lot of optimism about what is to come in 2018 and beyond.
As for the New England Patriots, I am not sure what happened to them in this game. It is hard to blame their offense for losing the game. QB Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 500 yards passing in a Super Bowl. He broke his old record of 466 yards passing that he he set just last year. Their running game produced 22 rushing attempts for 133 yards and one touchdown against an Eagles team that allowed 79.2 yards rushing per game and only seven rushing touchdowns on the season.
As a team, they scored 33 points, which is a record by a losing team in the Super Bowl. It eclipses the 31 points scored by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, a game the Cowboys lost 35-31 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It also eclipses the 31 points scored by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, a game the 49ers lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. At a certain point, the Patriots defense had to do something in this game if they were going to win. While they made a few timely plays, the Patriots defense earned an F in this game.
That defensive unit was a big problem for them early in the season that they seemed to fix as the season progressed. They allowed 32 points per game in their first four games and they allowed a quarterback to tally 300 yards passing in each of their first six games. That defense seemed to figure out how to bend, but not break after Week 6. They improved to the fifth best scoring defense, even though they remained 29th in yards allowed. That was evident by the disparity in their run defense. They were just 20th against the run, but second in rushing touchdowns allowed with just six.
In the Super Bowl, their defense regressed and became the bad unit we saw early in the season. The Eagles ran 71 plays in the game and gained 538 yards. The Patriots D did not record a single sack and their lone forced turnover was an interception on a deep pass that WR Alshon Jeffery tipped to a defender and basically became a long punt that pinned the Patriots deep in their own territory.
Their defense failed in almost every aspect of the game. That does not mean the offense does not escape any responsibility in the game. They failed to convert a fourth down in the first half in Eagles territory, they had a drive stall that resulted in a missed field goal and they missed an extra point. All those points would have been nice to have at the end of the game.
Still, that offense gained 613 yards of offense and averaged 8.5 yards per play without their best wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, who missed the entire second half with a head injury. They scored a touchdown on their first three drives of the second half and they went from down 22-12 to up 33-32 with 9:22 left in the game. They became the first team in NFL history to gain 600 yards of offense in a NFL game and still lose. They also became the first offense in NFL history to lose a game where their quarterback had 500 yards passing, three or more touchdowns and no picks in a game. It is hard to say the offense should have done more in this game when they did things that almost always guarantee a victory.
Brady will be disappointed about how this game turned out, but I think this was probably the easier of the Super Bowl losses to swallow. They lost to the New York Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII, which cost them an undefeated season. They lost a rematch with the New York Giants 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI. Their offense did not play up to their regular season standards in those two losses. In this game, there was very little more that they could have done, short of winning the game singlehandedly and not making one mistake the entire game. That is a very tough task in the Super Bowl against the other conference’s best team and a defense that was in the Top-5 in points allowed and yards allowed.
They just could not stop the Eagles when it mattered. With everything that had gone wrong, they still had a 33-32 lead and they had one drive to redeem themselves and make a key stop. Instead, they allowed the Eagles to go 14 plays and 75 yards in 7:02 to not only take the lead, but also bleed the clock. The Eagles converted a 3rd and six, and 4th and one and a 3rd and seven, which led to the go-ahead score by TE Zach Ertz. That just is not acceptable against a backup quarterback in the biggest game of the season.
You have to wonder why CB Malcolm Butler did not play a single snap when he played a team-high 97.8 percent of the snaps this season, but Belichick figured that going without Butler gave them the best chance to win. He had battled flu like symptoms earlier in the week, but had been back to practice since Wednesday and he was expected to play his normal role. CB Eric Rowe was not even aware he would start over Butler until kickoff.
Based on how the defense performed, I am not sure Butler would have been enough to made a difference in the game. He is a good cornerback, but the Patriots defense was being torched for more reasons than Butler was on the sideline. I think even if he plays, they would have given up a ton of yards and a ton of points. That said, they only needed to make a few more plays on defense to win the game and it is hard to envision the defense playing worse with Butler, seeing they played one of the worst games in Super Bowl history without him.
This is a guy that helped this team win a Super Bowl in the 2014 season with a key interception at the end of the game in a goal line situation and he made a Pro Bowl in 2015. Conventional wisdom would be that if was good enough to play 97.8 percent of the snaps this year, he could have made at least a small contribution to the team that was better than what they received without him on the field.
That decision to bench him would have to be classified as a bad decision that backfired on the Patriots. That decision to bench him is a question that only Belichick can answer and it appears he will not be doing that anytime soon. It will go down as one of the more baffling decisions in a stellar Hall of Fame career for the Patriots coach. Belichick has done things that have defied conventional wisdom before and they have paid off, but this will not go down as one of his better coaching decisions.
They gave a defensive performance that meant their offense had to score a touchdown every time they touched the ball in the second half. Their offense almost delivered, they made their only mistake of the second half on the drive after the Eagles retook the lead. With the game on the line, QB Tom Brady was sacked for the first time of the game and he fumbled the ball, which resulted in a field goal for Philly to give them an eight-point lead and bleeding New England of their remaining time outs. Brady made it to midfield and had a chance at a Hail Mary to allow them to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the game and send it to overtime, but that was not meant to be. Instead the Patriots lost the game and the they are left to think about what might have been.
What might have been is the loss denied them a chance to make some incredible history. Had they won this game, they would have won their third Super Bowl in four years. The only other teams to accomplish that feat were the 1992-1995 Dallas Cowboys and the 2001-2004 New England Patriots. Had Brady won this game, he would have passed QB Bart Starr for the most NFL titles with six. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick would have broken a tie with former Chicago Bears head coach George Halas and former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. The three coaches all have five championships as head coaches. Also, had the Patriots won they would have had a chance to go for the three-peat in 2018 and their fourth Super Bowl in five years. No team has ever won four Super Bowls in five years and the only team to three-peat was the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers.
I am sure Patriot haters will relish in the opportunity to celebrate in the Patriots sadness. The Patriot haters will remind us the Patriots were punished twice for cheating and that Spy Gate and Deflate Gate taint their legacy. I understand that those two scandals will be part of the Patriots legacy, but it does not change my mind about what I have watched since 2001. What they have done is unprecedented and they did not need to win this game to define their legacy. What they accomplished before this game was unprecedented in NFL history and they really do not have any equal. Losing this Super Bowl does not diminish their greatness.
Halas and Lombardi were coaching in different eras. I do not know how you compare 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s football to today’s game. There was no free agency, imbalanced schedules or playoff schedules. There were half the teams in the league compared to today and when a team had the best record in the Division, they had to play one playoff game to win a Championship. Halas won his first title in 1933 and his fifth in 1963. He did in 30 years what it took Belichick 16 years to accomplish.
Lombardi is the opposite of Halas. His run was so short, but the most impressive eight-year stretch in NFL history. He had 12 Hall of Fame players on their roster and he took that roster to the NFL Championship in 1960 where they lost before going on a run of five NFL titles in just seven years. He retired from coaching in 1968 and he came out of retirement in 1969. He only was able to coach one season with Washington before being diagnosed with cancer and he passed away in 1970. We don’t know if Lombardi would have been able to have another dynasty in the 1970s. For as good as Lombardi was as a head coach, his career record is (96-34-6), which amounts to only 136 games as a NFL head coach. He took the league by storm for a decade and we were robbed of a chance to see him dominate the league with two franchises.
I am not taking away from what Lombardi did, his run from 1960 to 1967 is the best run in NFL history and there is a reason they named the trophy after him. Halas is one of the most storied names in NFL history and his longevity is amazing. I am just saying it was a different era of NFL football and it is really hard to compare the modern era to the the early years of the NFL with all the differences in the rules, schedules, playoff structure and the size of the league. I think Belichick is such a student of the game, he would have dominated the NFL in any era, because he is always ahead of the curve compared to his contemporaries. He would have found away to win titles in the 1930s through the 1980s had he been a head coach in that era.
Just look at what Belichick has done compared to his peers. He is currently tied for third in NFL history with 250 wins. His next regular season win will put him past Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry for sole possession of third place in NFL history. The only two coaches ahead of him are George Halas (318) and Don Shula (328). They coached 40 years and 33 years in the NFL. Their winning percentages were .677 and .682. Belichick is currently at .710. He is the only coach in NFL history to have at least 150 wins and a winning percentage of greater than .700.
Andy Reid is probably the closet contemporary to judge him against. Reid has coached in the NFL from 1999 to 2017, which is basically Belichick’s entire run in New England. Reid has only 183 wins. Even if you take out the 36 Cleveland wins, Belichick is still miles ahead of him at 214 wins. Next on the list is Jeff Fisher at 173. Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan have 170 wins. Those coaches have combined for four Super Bowl victories with Coughlin and Shanahan having two Super Bowl wins each. Belichick has five Super Bowl victories on his own. That type of dominance does not come from videotaping and ball deflation. It comes from an understanding of the game that is second to none.
You can make the argument that Belichick is both the best coordinator in NFL history and the best head coach in NFL history. People forget that he was a 30-year old defensive guru back in the 1980s that helped the New York Giants land two Super Bowl victories in the 1986 and 1990 seasons. He took a 49ers offense led by QB Joe Montana in the 1986 playoffs that was seventh in points scored and third in yards gained and designed a game plan that ended up beating them 49-3. They shutout Joe Gibbs and his Washington team at home the following week. His defense dominated QB John Elway and the Denver Broncos 39-20 in the Super Bowl.
He was showcasing situational football back then, when the Giants had not played a 4-3 defense the entire season, but decided to give it a go against the Chicago Bears in the 1990 Wild Card Round. They thought the needed the extra defensive lineman to control the running game of the Bears. They won that game 31-3. Against the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, two of the best offenses in the NFL that year, they ran primarily nickel and dime coverage to take away the passing game. They won those games 15-13 and 20-19.
They did not just play one defense and make the opponent execute against it when he was a coordiantor. They took away the strength of the opposing offense and made them win with something they were not comfortable executing. They would play man, zone, 4-3, 3-4, nickel or dime. Whatever formation or package would frustrate the opponent the most is what they would run, because he could have his defense run anything. Part of the reason for that was having LB Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the best defensive player in NFL history. A big reason Taylor was the best defensive player in NFL history is he had Belichick game planning their defenses and using his special physical skills to dominate the opposition.
The league has changed a lot since Belichick was the best coordinator in the NFL back in the 1980s and 1990s. The one thing that has not changed is that he is still one of the most innovative people in the NFL and he is still ahead of the rest of the field. From 2000 to 2017, he has won .787 percent of his regular season games, led the Patriots to 12 AFC Championship Games, eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl wins. Nobody has ever done that in the history of the league, because it is too hard to stay at the top of the NFL for that length of time. I should say it is too hard for everyone but coach Belichick.
Despite a defense that was disintegrating before his eyes, they still managed to keep his team in the game, score touchdowns in the second half on three straight drives against an Eagles defense that was fourth in points allowed and fourth in yards gained and overcame a double-digit deficit to take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter. They had a lead in that game from 9:22 left in the game until there was 2:21 left to play. Most teams would have been down four touchdowns if their defense was playing like the Patriots were that day. Belichick still gave them a chance to win the game until the final play.
I think that is what amazes me about this team. It isn’t that they are just infinitely superior to every other team. Teams give them what appear to be knockout shots in big games. They were down 10 points at home in the fourth quarter to Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game this year. They were down 27-3 in the Super Bowl last year against the Atlanta Falcons. They were down 10 points in the Super Bowl in 2014 against the best defense in the NFL, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.
They won all of those games. They comeback to win games like that routinely in the playoffs and people expected them to do that again in this game. When everything is going wrong around them, they always seem to find away to ignore the negative and keep their heads in the game. They win games that other teams do not win, because the Patriots are that rare team that is mentally tough enough to play the entire 60 minutes and talented enough to execute with the game on the line. That mentality starts with the head coach and quarterback and the rest of the roster buys into that never say never mentality.
It is going to be interesting to see where this team accomplishes next year. Brady turns 41-years old next year and a lot can happen in eight months. At some point he will be too old to play at a high level. He may not be the same MVP player that we saw this year; he may defy his age for another season and be better in 2018. Upgrading the defense obviously has to be a major priority. It failed them early in the season and while they were able to apply a Band-Aid to it and learn to live with it, it came back to kill them in their biggest game. If they would have had a better defense this year, they would probably have won their sixth Super Bowl.
If Brady is Brady and this team fixes the defense, we should be able to count on them winning 12-14 games, which is insane, because a team should not just be able to go out there and do that year after year. For the last eight seasons, this team has won 12 or more games and for the last seven seasons they have made it to the AFC Championship Game. It’s an unprecedented level of success and the fact that we just take for granted that this team will dominate the competition next year and win playoff games next year and compete for Super Bowls next year is a testament to this team’s greatness.
That greatness would have reached new heights had they managed to win this game, but they have already gone where no NFL Franchise has gone over the last 17 years and it looks like they may just need to tweak a couple things on defense to keep that run going in 2018. People can root against them; that is what makes the NFL fun. People should not sell short what this team has done and they need to appreciate the greatness this franchise puts out there year after year.
Once Brady and Belichick are gone, I do not know if we will see this ever again. I am not saying there will never be another dynasty, because each decade has given us a franchise that has been NFL Champion at least three times. That has not happened this decade yet, as the Patriots lead the decade with two championships. Nobody else has more than one. We will have another dynasty, maybe it is this Eagles team, maybe it is a team that has yet to be constructed. Someone will figure out away to be one step ahead of the rest of the NFL. I just do not know if they will be able to do it for 18 years. Nobody has played in more big games and won more big games as consistently for this length of time with one head coach and one quarterback as the New England Patriots. This game did not go their way, but if history is any indication, they will be right back in this spot in 2018.