Usually when a quarterback passes for over 500 yards, shattering his own Super Bowl record in the process, you expect his team to win. Alas, it was not to be for the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday night, as the Philadelphia Eagles secured their first world championship in team history. Defense was at a premium in the game as the teams combined for an NFL-record 1,155 total yards of offense. But in the end, it was a monstrous defensive play that sealed the game for the Eagles.
The narratives leading into this game certainly built up much of the hype around it. It was Philadelphia’s third shot at a Super Bowl, their most recent loss being at the hands of the Patriots in 2005. On the other side, Bill Belichick and the Patriots were seeking their record-breaking sixth Super Bowl championship . The Eagles had lost their seeming franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, near the end of the regular season, and were forced to turn to former starter Nick Foles, who struggled in the regular season before stunning spectators and opposing teams in the playoffs. Wentz had been putting up MVP-caliber numbers while healthy. Tom Brady, meanwhile, won his third MVP award on Saturday night and was leading the defending Super Bowl champs, who had completed a 13-3 regular season. Both teams had featured high-flying offenses during the regular season, the Eagles being the highest and Patriots the second-highest scoring offenses. Both teams featured top 10 scoring defenses, though the Eagles were consistently more highly regarded as there were concerns of the Patriots giving up big plays.
The game began in rather slow fashion as both teams traded field goals during the opening frame. But it was on the Eagles’ next drive that they set the tone for the game, with quarterback Nick Foles delivering a perfect bomb to Alshon Jeffrey in the endzone. Jeffrey, who had Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe all over him, managed to extend to make a beautiful catch and held onto the ball for an Eagles touchdown. Such big plays became commonplace as neither defense could maintain consistent coverage. Patriots starting cornerback Malcolm Butler, best known for his heroic goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX, did not play a single defensive snap for reasons that remain unclear. Neither team’s pass rush could generate consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.
A scary moment for the Patriots came near the beginning of the second quarter, as Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks looked to extend his run through the open field. Malcolm Jenkins delivered an absolutely massive blindside to Cooks, after which he immediately crumpled to the ground and remained motionless. Thankfully Cooks was able to make it off the field under his own power, but he was ruled out of the game with a head injury.
The Eagles took over after a fourth down stop, and their next drive saw a couple of highlight reel plays. The first was a perfect lob from Foles to Jeffrey again, which Jeffrey managed to track down while falling towards the sideline. From there, former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, more known for his power running than his speed, burst through the Patriots secondary to give the Eagles a 12-point lead.
New England’s next drive ended with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, and the Eagles saw a chance to break the 20 point mark and put up a 16-point lead on the Patriots. Foles once again went deep down the sideline looking for Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey almost pulled off an insane one-handed catch but instead batted the ball into the hands of New England safety Duron Harmon, thus averting a potential crisis for the New England defense. It was time for some Patriots big plays as Tom Brady delivered a beautiful 40+ yard strike to Chris Hogan and James White broke a number of tackles on a rousing 26-yard run to the endzone.
With two minutes left in the half, the Eagles had plenty of time to march down the field, and they capped the final drive of the half with a trick play that got every Eagles fan on their feets. Quarterback Nick Foles lined up as a receiver and, completely unmarked, caught a two yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles a 22-12 lead going into the half. Tom Brady had been slightly overthrown on a similar trick play earlier in the half. At halftime, Brady had already thrown for 276 yards and the offenses had combined for 673 yards.
The Patriots started the second half with possession, looking to cut it to a one possession game. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski had been quiet during the first half, but he came out with a vengeance on this drive, catching five passes for 68 yards, including the five yard touchdown strike from Brady.
The Patriots defense looked to get a stop and put the ball back in the hands of Brady to potentially take their first lead of the game on the next drive. Instead, the Eagles were unstoppable, marching easily down the field, before Foles delivered on a controversial touchdown with another perfect pass. Eagles running back Corey Clement appeared to juggle the ball after the catch, thus preventing him from getting two feet down while in control of the ball. However, the touchdown call stood after review.
Once again, Brady faced a ten point deficit, but he led the Patriots offense calmly down the field, capping the drive off with another strike to former college lacrosse player Chris Hogan. The Eagles got the ball back, and the Patriots defense managed to get a stop of sorts, holding the Birds to a field goal. Brady was presented with an opportunity to deliver the Patriots their first lead of the game and he delivered, throwing a beautiful back corner fade to Rob Gronkowski who had been unstoppable on such routes all year.
The Eagles, now facing their first deficit of the gain, marched down to their own 45, before the Patriots managed to force a 4th-and-1. The Eagles went for it and, in one of the most crucial plays of the game, Foles managed to convert with a pass to tight end Zach Ertz right at the first down marker in spite of the Patriots bringing blitz. The Eagles then continued their march down the field before Foles delivered another controversial touchdown. Tight end Zach Ertz caught the ball about five yards short of the endzone and then dove in as he crossed the goal line to avoid a tackle. He lost possession of the ball when he hit the ground but managed to regain possession while the ball was still in the air. The play was reviewed for almost five minutes by the officiating crew before the touchdown call was confirmed. The Eagles failed to convert on a two-point conversion attempt, thus giving them only a five point lead.
Brady got the ball back with over two minutes to play, which he has traditionally demonstrated is plenty of time for him to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Instead, it was the Eagles who delivered possibly the signature play of the game. With Brady dropping back to pass on second down, the Eagles brought a four-man rush. Defensive end Brandon Graham beat his blocker and stripped Brady of the ball as he attempted to clutch the ball. Eagles rookie Derek Barnett recovered and the Eagles kicked a field goal to seemingly clinch the victory. Brady got the ball back with under a minute left with a touchdown and two-point conversion being required to tie the game. The Patriots drove down to around the 50 before a last gasp Hail Mary in the vicinity of Gronkowski fell harmlessly to the ground. Victory Eagles.
But perhaps the most notable occurrence of the night was the celebration that occurred in Philadelphia afterwards. Hundreds of thousands of fans took to the streets to raucously celebrate, celebrations that included the climbing and tearing down of lampposts and even the destruction of the awning outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel. In a more organized celebration, the Eagles victory parade will be held this Thursday.
In one of the most exciting and record-setting Super Bowls ever, the Philadelphia Eagles held on to win with a clutch defensive play in a game where defense was an afterthought. It was a fitting cap to a season of great resiliency for the Eagles, as they faced a slew of high-profile injuries. Ultimately, it will be a game remembered in Philadelphia sports folklore for years to come.