The signature moment from the Eagles’ 41-33 triumph over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII was an out-of-the-box trick play that began with the ball taken out of the quarterback’s hands, only for it to end up in them in a surprising twist.
‘Philly Special’ the play was called, and it was dialled up on a critical fourth-and-goal at the end of the first half, resulting in a direct snap to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to tight end Trey Burton, who tossed it to Nick Foles in the end zone.
It was one of two fourth-down attempts and conversions for the Eagles, who seemingly executed every unconventional move Pederson called for.
“I trust my players, I trust my coaches and I trust my instincts,” Pederson said. “I trust everything I’m doing, and I want to maintain that aggressiveness. In games like this, against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions that way and keep yourself aggressive.”
Philadelphia players were emboldened by their coach’s confidence, with Burton saying: “Our coach has got some guts, huh? Got some big ones.”
Brady isn’t going anywhere
This time, Tom Brady wasn’t celebrating as the confetti fell and covered the inside of U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Losing sucks,” Brady said.
The Patriots quarterback tasted Super Bowl defeat for the third time in his career, in spite of throwing for a record 505 yards and three touchdowns. Just a day earlier, he had earned his third MVP award for another magnificent season at the age of 40.
With no decline apparent, Brady stated there’s no reason why he wouldn’t return next season for his 19th year.
“I mean it’s 15 minutes after the game ended, so I’d like to process this a little bit,” Brady said. “I wouldn’t see why I wouldn’t be back.”
What did the Butler do?
Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler inexplicably didn’t see the field for a single defensive snap in a game New England allowed 41 points and 538 yards of offence.
“They gave up on me,” Butler told ESPN. “F***. It is what it is.”
Former Patriots corner Brandon Browner defended Malcolm Butler and blasted Bill Belichick in a series of IG posts tonight. Said Bill "lost the game for us." pic.twitter.com/3GWTZ1UHgc— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) February 5, 2018
Eric Rowe started in place of Butler, who only saw playing time on special teams despite being a regular starter at cornerback this season.
“It was a coach’s decision… I don’t know what it was,” Butler said. “I guess I wasn’t playing good. They didn’t feel comfortable. I could have changed that game, though.”
Bill Belichick claimed after the game the decision was not a disciplinary move, but instead based on the game plan.
Super Bowl LII isn’t even 24 hours old yet, but the fallout from the game has inspired some interesting questions going forward.
Here are three topics of discussion to keep an eye on as we head into the offseason.
Who will buy high on Foles?
Back-up-turned-starter Nick Foles just pulled off an improbable run to the title and aside from bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia, the Super Bowl MVP could soon be netting the franchise assets to bolster a championship-winning roster.
The Eagles aren’t turning their backs on Carson Wentz, their franchise quarterback who was an MVP frontrunner before suffering an ACL tear in Week 14. He’ll return under centre when he’s healthy, with all signs pointing to that being the start of next season. And while Foles won’t be a free agent this offseason, there’s a strong chance he’s on another team by summertime.
For one, Foles’ stock will never be higher than it is now after he just proved he’s not only a starter in the league, but one who can win you a Super Bowl. And secondly, his contract is structured in such a way that if he’s still on Philadelphia’s roster come February 2019, the final three years of his deal will be void and he’ll hit a free agency.
Expect the Eagles to field plenty of offers for Foles over the coming months and strike while the iron is hot.
McDaniels replacing Belichick?
Realize there's 'chatter' out there, but I've been told Colts are moving ahead as planned. Fully expect Josh McDaniels next HC. Maybe an announcement Tuesday and a presser Wed or Thurs.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) February 5, 2018
While it’s nothing definitive, it is a bombshell nonetheless because McDaniels was expected to fill Indianapolis’ head coaching vacancy all along and leave New England like defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who will take the Detroit job.
McDaniels refused to talk about the speculation after the Super Bowl loss, so it’s still unclear if he’s going or not. But it certainly wouldn’t help his reputation if he backs out of an unofficial acceptance of the Colts job.
But maybe McDaniels doesn’t care because he’s gotten word from Bill Belichick that the Patriots’ head coaching position will be open sooner than later. It would be a surprise if Belichick called it quits now, but in a couple years or so? That wouldn’t be out of the question at all. McDaniels could be happy biding a little more time.
Gronk spike no more?
The most interesting quote anyone with the Patriots gave on the topic of retirement after the Super Bowl defeat was shockingly Rob Gronkowski.
The 28-year-old tight end is at the top of his game and in his prime as arguably the greatest player at his position ever, but Gronkowski was noncommittal about his future, saying: I’m going to sit down the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.”
Rob Gronkowski was asked about his playing future following Super Bowl LII and he did not deny retirement rumors. pic.twitter.com/7tl72uCNlq— NESN (@NESN) February 5, 2018
You can understand where Gronk is coming from as he’s suffered multiple devastating injuries in his career and was just in concussion protocol ahead of the Super Bowl. Even with his size, he takes massive punishment from hard-hitting defensive players and plays a physical style.
But this isn’t the first time a player has publicly mulled retirement after their season ended in unsavoury fashion. The Super Bowl especially is an emotional game, which often leaves players looking inward in the immediate aftermath. It’s possible that after sleeping on it for a few days or weeks, Gronkowski will feel differently.
If it is somehow the end for Gronk, it’s been one special career.
Super Bowl LII delivered a classic, back-and-forth battle for the biggest shootout in the game’s history.
Ultimately, the Philadelphia Eagles made enough plays to edge the New England Patriots 41-33 for the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory, ending the reign of the defending champions who were seeking their third title in four years and a sixth championship overall.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles earned MVP honours as he threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, while also pulling in a receiving score to become the first player ever to both throw and catch a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Here’s a breakdown of the game and how it was decided:
Defence at a premium
So much for the adage ‘defence wins championships’. Super Bowl LII was ruled by offence as the attacks of both teams were unstoppable for nearly the entire 60 minutes.
Check out the records that were set: Most combined total yardage in any regular season or playoff game with 1,151; most passing yards in a postseason contest by a single player with Tom Brady’s 505; most combined passing yards in a Super Bowl with 874, and most points scored by a losing team in a Super Bowl with New England’s 33. The 74 combined points were one shy of tying the record for total points, set in Super Bowl XXIX.
If there’s one person who can’t be blamed for the Patriots’ loss, it’s Brady. The Patriots quarterback couldn’t have been expected to perform any better as he threw for the aforementioned 505 yards at a clip of 10.5 per attempt, and three touchdowns. Facing a 10-point hole coming out of halftime, Brady and the offence responded with touchdown drives on their first three possessions of the second half.
When Brady truly got into a rhythm, he was picking apart the Eagles’ man coverage with ease. Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski all topped 100 yards receiving, much of which came on chunk plays with Brady taking advantage of double moves to beat Philadelphia’s aggressive secondary downfield. New England never had to punt.
On the other side of the ball, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson did a masterful job of play-calling to keep the Patriots’ defence guessing.
When Philadelphia’s offensive line often had a numbers advantage against New England’s front, the ground game had large holes to run through and finished with 164 yards on 6.07 yards per rush.
The air attack, meanwhile, didn’t feature as many RPOs (run-pass options) as expected, with the Eagles instead having plenty of success out of their mesh/wheel concept, which features shallow crossing routes and the running back angling out of the backfield and down the sidelines. Some of the game’s most important plays came out of this concept, including Corey Clement’s 55-yard gain on a wheel route in the second quarter and tight end Zach Ertz’s drive-extending grab on a shallow cross to convert the fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
Before postseason, Pederson went back and watched old Foles film to try to help the QB. Since, mesh/wheel, a staple under Chip Kelly has been a go-to play. Hit on it for the 55-yarder to Clement. Drawing here from the great @Coach_Flinn. Why coaching matters. pic.twitter.com/gznOKQ0g26— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) February 5, 2018
Foles also attempted 21 play-action passes – the most ever in Super Bowl history – and was 12-of-21 for 118 yards and a touchdown on them, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Both offences were dealing, but the difference was one got a little more help from its defence as Brandon Graham’s strip-sack of Brady in the final minutes provided the key stop.
Patriots’ uncharacteristic mistakes
New England are known for excelling at situational football, but they looked unlike themselves in several crucial moments.
The red zone, along with third and fourth downs, are where games are won and lost. For as poorly as the Patriots’ defence played, they did well to hold the Eagles to two touchdowns on four red zone trips. The real problem, however, was getting off the field on third and fourth downs, which Philadelphia converted 10-of-16 times and on both occasions, respectively.
A number of those third down pick-ups came with New England defenders missing tackles and failing to bring down the ball-carrier before the line to gain.
Malcolm Butler could have likely helped, but the cornerback didn’t play any defensive snaps as he was bizarrely kept sidelined for an undisclosed reason.
In his place, Eric Rowe got the call and struggled for much of the first half against Alshon Jeffery before Stephon Gilmore drew the assignment in the second half and had more success.
Eric Rowe said he didn't know he was starting until right before game. Seemed as puzzled as rest of NE as to why no Malcolm Butler— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) February 5, 2018
The Patriots didn’t fare much better in special teams – where they almost always have an edge – with Stephen Gostkowski missing a 26-yard field goal after a mishandled snap and then shanking an extra point.
Other miscellaneous errors included Brady’s scramble to lose time at the end of the first half and Bill Belichick’s decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line, which resulted in Gostkowski’s miss.