MINNEAPOLIS — The ending was as improbable as the Eagles’ run itself. Tom Brady, needing one score, with 141 seconds to work with. If you’re the Patriots, you’d take that bet.
But these Eagles long ago decided they were going to buck convention. How else do you make the Super Bowl with a back-up quarterback? Or after losing your signal-calling linebacker, your All-Pro left tackle, your most versatile running back? Or with a head coach whose only previous experience running a team was at Calvary Baptist Academy a decade ago?
This team donned dog masks, laughed at their doubters and closed ranks in a way that was reminiscent of the Giants team that upset the perfect Patriots 10 years ago. The result: Eagles 41, Patriots 33.
The Patriots will face questions about the future of their dynasty, with both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia expected to accept head coaching jobs (Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively), and speculation swirling about how long Brady and Bill Belichick will lead this dynasty together. But this night belonged to the Eagles, whose fans showed up in full force, singing “Fly Eagles Fly” at every opportunity as they waited for their first Super Bowl championship.
Just two years ago, Nick Foles was mulling retirement. But on this night, he was going toe to toe with the greatest quarterback of all time, who was trying to add a sixth ring to his collection. The Eagles got to this point by being fearless, and they didn’t waver in that on the biggest stage of all. Foles and Tom Brady became the first two quarterbacks to both throw for 100 yards in the first quarter of a Super Bowl, a statistic few would have expected just a few weeks ago. By the time Foles dropped an absolute dime on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery in the first quarter, it was clear the underdogs were ready to hang with the big dogs.
Between two teams with strong identities on defense, a rollicking shootout that smashed a record for total yards gained by both teams seemed nearly as unlikely as Foles starting in the Super Bowl, or rookie running back Corey Clement leading the Eagles in receiving yards. The teams combined for a remarkable 1,151 yards gained, well above the previous record of 929 yards.
The Eagles had a steady lead until the 9:22 mark of the fourth quarter, when Brady completed his second touchdown to Rob Gronkowski, putting New England ahead 33-32. It seemed like the moment that we’d grown accustomed to seeing over the Patriots’ second dynasty years, the one that, against all odds, turns the tide of the game in their favor.
But the Eagles didn’t back down. Pederson, after all, was the coach who called a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton to Foles on a fourth-and-goal at the end of the first half, with a lead. (It worked.) So, facing a fourth-and-1 from their own 45-yard line after ceding the lead to the Patriots, Pederson decided to go for it. They converted, on a two-yard pass to Zach Ertz. That drive came down to a third-and-7 in the red zone. Of course the nebulous catch rule would play a role in deciding the season.
The pass again went to Ertz, who extended his body over the goal line in a way that was eerily similar to the would-be game-winner by Steelers tight end Jesse James in the regular-season game between the Patriots and Steelers, one that determined AFC home-field advantage. In this case, Ertz was deemed to have possessed the ball long enough to become a runner, putting the Eagles back on top. After a failed two-point conversion, Philadelphia’s lead stood at five points with 2:21 to play.
Brady often looked exasperated through the night, like when he bobbled a third-and-5 pass from Danny Amendola on a gadget play, or after that 22-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Corey Clement on a third down in the third quarter. He uncharacteristically missed some throws, despite the fact he was not sacked for the game’s first 57 minutes. And the defense, playing without starting cornerback Malcolm Butler, the Super Bowl 49 hero who appeared to have been benched, struggled to stop the Eagles.
Brady had been in this position so many times before: the ball in his hands, with a chance to win the game. But on this play, with 2:21 left, the Eagles’ pass rush got home for the first time all night. Brandon Graham, the defensive end who was labeled a bust early in his pro career, lined up inside and barreled past guard Shaq Mason, knocking the ball free. Rookie defensive end Derek Barnett recovered. Did that really just happen?
The Eagles ran the clock down to 1:05, exhausted the Patriots’ timeouts and kicked a field goal. Brady had one last chance, needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime. After an unsuccessful reverse on the kickoff return, Brady had only 58 seconds to work with and was starting at his own 9-yard line. New England advanced it to midfield, then the last-gasp pass to Gronkowski, surrounded by Eagles defenders in the end zone, fell incomplete. The clock showed zeroes. Green and silver confetti blared onto the field with a loud boom.
The loss doesn’t change a Patriots legacy that is still unmatched, but it will no doubt put into sharper focus the questions about the future of the people at the center of their dynasty as they return to Foxboro. As for the Eagles, for Pederson, for Foles, for a city that had to grease lampposts to prevent fans from scaling them, their legacy is forever changed.
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