Underdog Eagles Take Down Mighty Brady, Patriots

Tom Brady, hailed by some as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football, was outdueled in Super Bowl LII by backup quarterback Nick Foles.

Yes, you read that right.

Tom Brady. Outdueled by Nick Foles, who came close to leaving professional football less than two years ago.

A week ago, I published my preview of this Super Bowl at thecollegevoice.org. In the article, I picked the Eagles over the Patriots, saying that the game would remain close into halftime before the Eagles would pull away in the second half. With a 22-12 Philadelphia lead at halftime, the game was relatively close, but would ultimately become closer in the second half, culminating in a New England touchdown to give the Patriots a 33-32 lead. Foles was unfazed by the only deficit Philadelphia faced, leading a scoring drive on the Birds’ next possession. After a clutch strip-sack of Brady gave Philadelphia possession with a five-point lead, rookie kicker Jake Elliott sealed the win for the Eagles with the longest field goal by a rookie in Super Bowl history. Less than two minutes of play later, the Eagles sealed their franchise’s first Super Bowl win. I had the Eagles winning by two scores last week, and an 8-point margin of victory for Philadelphia means I wasn’t too far off. Not bad for an amateur analyst such as myself.

Foles became the first backup QB to win a Super Bowl since… Tom Brady.

It was in that preview I named Philadelphia running back LeGarrette Blount my X-factor for Super Bowl LII. While, in retrospect, it may have been smart to ask whether Foles could go throw-for-throw with Brady on the NFL’s biggest stage, Blount didn’t disappoint. He led all Philadelphia backs with 14 carries for 90 yards and the Eagles’ only rushing touchdown. Foles, on the other hand, was otherworldly against one of the best teams in the NFL. He went 28-for-43 in passing for 373 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. The most unexpected play in this game, however, was a reverse-pass play just before halftime in which Foles caught a touchdown pass to extend Philadelphia’s lead.

Brady’s attempted reception early in the half resulted in an incomplete pass. Foles’ reception resulted in a touchdown.

The Eagles embraced their underdog status against the heavily-favored Patriots, and used it to their advantage, scoring early and often against the Patriots – the game as a whole only featured one punt. In fact, the 74 combined points between the two teams marked the second-highest-scoring Super Bowl in the game’s 52-year history, trailing only the 75-point effort by the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers in San Francisco’s 49-26 victory in Super Bowl XXIX. The offensive showcase put on by Philadelphia and New England made for one of the most entertaining Super Bowls in history.

Now, then. Let’s get to the recap.

The game started with a bang as Foles drove down the field for a game-opening field goal. When the Patriots immediately responded with a field goal of their own, Foles and the Eagles took over possession and drove back down the gridiron for the game’s first touchdown, on a 34-yard pass from Foles to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. New England was unable to keep pace, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski knocked a poorly snapped field goal attempt off the left upright to keep the game at 9-3 Philadelphia.

Blount, a champion a year ago with New England, recorded the game’s next score on the Eagles’ only rushing touchdown of the night early in the second quarter. A muffed attempt at a two-point conversion kept the Philadelphia lead at 15-3, the Eagles’ largest lead of the night. The Patriots scored on back-to-back drives, with Gostkowski drilling a 45-yard field goal and Brady connecting with running back James White for a 26-yard touchdown. Gostkowski missed the extra-point attempt, but the Patriots had cut the deficit to 15-12. With 34 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles connected for a touchdown on the aforementioned trick play. Elliott’s kick was good, pushing the Eagles’ lead to 10 points.

After Justin Timberlake’s halftime performance (which featured a holographic tribute to Prince and one of the funniest celebrity-fan interactions with an early candidate for selfie-of-the-year), the Patriots received the second-half kickoff and marched up the field for a touchdown to again cut the deficit to three. Foles matched Brady throw-for-throw on the following possession, and the Eagles kept the Patriots at an arm’s length. Brady responded with another touchdown drive as the third quarter wound to a close, ending the quarter just three points behind.

Elliott opened the final quarter with a 42-yard field goal to increase the lead to six, but Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski matched up for a touchdown for the second time to give New England its only lead at 33-32. Seven minutes later, tight end Zach Ertz leapt over New England’s defensive unit to score a replay-confirmed touchdown to give the Eagles a lead they’d never relinquish.

Brady has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or later of all five of his Super Bowl wins. Due to Philadelphia’s strong fourth-quarter defense, that streak continued.

Brady took over with 2:21 remaining in the game, and, at first, it looked like he might have one more miraculous drive in his 40-year-old arm. After a few downs, the most crucial play of the night occurred: Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham knocked the ball loose from Brady’s hands, and it was recovered by Philadelphia. Elliott’s record-setting field goal a short while later pushed the Philly lead to 8, and the Patriots took over again with just 65 seconds remaining in regulation – and were in their own red zone. Brady appeared to be slowing down with three consecutive incompletions before connecting for a significant gain. With no time-outs left, Brady and the Patriots reached the 49-yard line before the veteran launched a Hail Mary pass toward the Philadelphia end zone with just four seconds left. The entire football world held its collective breath as the pass came down, and, after bouncing between players of both teams, it fell to the turf as time expired.

The Philadelphia Eagles were world champions.

Despite throwing for 505 yards – the first 500-yard passing performance in Super Bowl history – on 28-for-48 passing with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, Brady came up short in his quest for an individual record-setting and team record-tying sixth Super Bowl title. Following early- and mid-season trades of backup quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo, owner Robert Kraft left head coach Bill Belichick without a succession plan behind Brady, who, despite winning NFL MVP honors for the 2017 season, showed signs of his advanced age in the regular season – and during his two attempted final drives of this Super Bowl.

The loss to the Eagles, Brady’s age, the lack of a young backup ready to take over, discord in the front office, and the departure of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia all give reason to believe the Patriots’ reign over the AFC, and the NFL as a whole, may be reaching its end. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, and Los Angeles Chargers will all view the Patriots with a target on their backs as the team to beat moving forward, and the Patriots’ first-place schedule will be no easy task in next year’s regular season. The NFC playoff picture will provide a daunting Super Bowl opponent for whichever team emerges from the AFC, with Philadelphia and the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Rams all poised to return to the postseason with possible returns to prominence from San Francisco and the Green Bay Packers.

The 2018 season may bring the end of the Brady/Belichick dynasty.

While the future may be murky in Foxborough for the first time in nearly two decades, it couldn’t be brighter in Philadelphia. Foles’ run of dominance this winter may have made people forget about second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who was putting up MVP-caliber numbers under center for the Eagles before an untimely ACL injury ended his season. The only question that should weigh on the minds of the Eagles’ front office must be what to do with Foles this offseason.

The backup proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is a capable NFL starting quarterback (and can now put “Super Bowl MVP” on his resume. Not bad for someone who very nearly walked away from the game in 2016). Wentz is undoubtedly the future of the organization, but the Eagles must walk a delicate line with Foles – they could either trade him to an organization with which he could start (Arizona, the Jets, and Denver come to mind), or they could keep him as a mentor to Wentz/insurance plan should Wentz not be fully recovered from injury come training camp. Either way, Philadelphia should be thrilled with its quarterback situation moving forward.

I was in the minority of sportswriters a week ago, when I picked the Eagles as my Super Bowl LII champions. A week later, Nick Foles is a Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady is going home without a ring, and the Eagles have their first Super Bowl championship.

Football, we’ll see you in the fall.

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