Patriots miss out on an emphatic Super Bowl win, still put on a show

  • New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) together with Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (26) jump for a pass in the end zone, during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Eagles won 41-33. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Tony Gutierrez

  • Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Graham, center, strips the ball from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Eagles recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Matt York) Matt York

  • New England Patriots' Tom Brady sits on the bench after losing a fumble during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson

  • New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (87) cannot catch a pass during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Eagles won 41-33. (AP Photo/Matt York) Matt York

  • Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Eagles won 41-33. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

  • Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) dives into the end zone over New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) for a touchdown, during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Chris O'Meara

Monitor staff
Monday, February 05, 2018

Super Bowl LII could have been an exclamation point for the New England football dynasty. It could have ended with a third title in four years to bookend the 3 in 4 the Patriots won when their NFL reign began 18 years ago.

Instead, the Philadelphia Eagles won Sunday’s thriller, 41-33, with their own exclamation-point effort.

The Eagles scored on trick plays and spectacular catches. They stayed aggressive, throwing punches until the end, which is the only way to beat a great champ. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons, who turned conservative last year and coughed up a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

There was nothing conservative about this Super Bowl. The teams combined for 1,152 yards, the most yards in any NFL game in history. Not any Super Bowl or playoff game.

Any. Game. Ever.

Tom Brady threw for 505 yards, the most passing yards in an NFL postseason game. New England’s 33 points was the most ever scored by a team that lost the Super Bowl.

The Patriots played like champs. The Eagles just happened to play better Sunday.

The loss felt like the other two Super Bowl losses in the Brady/Bill Belichick era. Philadelphia, like the New York Giants in the 2007 and 2011 seasons, doesn’t have a bona fide superstar on either side of the ball, but it does have talent at every position. The Eagles, like the Giants, had a great game plan.

Most importantly, Philly, like New York, had to make a pile of big plays to beat the Patriots. And the Eagles, like the Giants before them, made those plays.

New York delivered most of its game-changing, title-winning plays on defense – with catches by David Tyree and Mario Manningham notable, and painful, exceptions. Philadelphia’s big plays came on offense – with the notable exception of Brandon Graham’s strip sack of Brady with 2:09 left to play.

Before that sack, most of New England was probably thinking the same thing: The Pats are down by five? With 2:21 on the clock? And Brady has the ball? Boston better make parade plans.

We’ve seen it too many times not to believe. They’ve done it in snowstorms. They’ve done it facing historic deficits. They’ve done it against great defenses and great offenses and great coaches and everything in between.

This time, the other guys did it.

It felt like the first team to make a play on defense, any play, would win. And Philadelphia’s Graham made that play.

Graham is normally an outside pass rusher, but on the game-turning sack he lined up on the inside. That’s exactly what New York did to pressure Brady in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. While those Giants got in Brady’s face throughout both games, the Eagles barely bothered Brady on Sunday ... until it mattered most.

That’s when Graham’s quickness beat New England’s interior behemoths and he punched the ball free from Brady just before he threw it. Philadelphia’s Mychal Kendricks recovered it – and that, in essence, was that.

Yes, the Patriots got the ball back one more time, but by then they trailed by eight, had used up all their timeouts and had 91 yards between them and the game-tying touchdown. It was too much to ask, even for a miracle worker like Brady.

Graham’s play may have clinched it, but it’s hard to say if it was Philadelphia’s biggest play. It certainly wasn’t the only one.

There was the gutsy gimmick play on fourth-and-goal from the 1 where running back Corey Clement took a direct snap and flipped the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who then threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles, the game’s MVP.

If that’s too much football talk, here’s the translation: The Eagles pulled off a complicated play rarely seen under incredible pressure ... and they did it after the Patriots and Brady muffed a similar trick play. They beat the champs at their own game.

Foles wasn’t just catching touchdown passes. The backup who took over in December for injured Carson Wentz delivered incredible scoring throws to Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement, who both came up with incredible catches on those throws.

After missing a routine extra point after the game’s first touchdown, Phladelphia’s rookie kicker Jake Elliott hit his next two extra points and nailed all three of his field goal attempts. Elliott was good from 42 yards out early in the fourth quarter, which was the longest field goal in Super Bowl history by a rookie. He then broke that record with a 46-yarder with just 1:05 left to give his team an eight-point cushion.

It took all that and then some to dethrone Brady, Belichick and the Patriots. There’s no shame in this loss for New England, and there are still plenty of reasons to hold up these Patriots as the greatest dynasty in NFL history. And to believe there’s more to come.

Brady and Belichick still have more Super Bowl wins (five) and appearances (eight) than any quarterback or head coach. Brady still owns all the Super Bowl passing records. The Patriots have still been to more Super Bowls (10) than any other franchise.

Yes, they are now 5-5 in those Super Bowls, and Brady-Belichick are now 5-3. But their story is not done.

Don’t forget, Brady was just named the NFL MVP, and not by a small margin. He led the league with 4,577 passing yards. As long as he is still the Patriots’ quarterback, they are still a threat to win it all.

The Eagles earned their first Super Bowl title with a performance for the ages. Philadelphia deserves its long-awaited parade. There may be no exclamation point for the Patriots, but this isn’t the end of their dynasty. As long as Brady and Belichick are here, New England is still the land of champions.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20).