MINNEAPOLIS — Thirty Eagles bounced to the beat of a popular rap song, “MotorSport,” an hour after the pulsating Super Bowl 52 victory over the dynastic Patriots. White, black, players, coaches, one equipment guy at least. When the deafening song was over, 50-year-old Doug Pederson, one of the unlikeliest Super Bowl-winning head coaches ever, found his way to the front of his men for his post-game address.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am!” the hoarse Pederson said, straining to be heard, his face a road map of glee. “World champions! World champions! This is what you’ve accomplished—it’s for this moment right here!”
Then he said: “An individual can make a difference, but a team makes a miracle!”
One player yelled: “Coach of the year!”
If the balloting included the post-season, and counted three straight wins as underdogs, the award would be Pederson’s. But he’s fine with this award for his team and his football-loving city: Eagles 41, Patriots 33, in what could well be the single biggest sports victory in the history of Philadelphia.
The Eagles are NFL champions for the first time in the Super Bowl era, for the first time since three weeks before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. And it never would have happened without the head coach whom USA Todayranked seventh of seven new NFL coaching hires in January 2016.
“He’s got a big set of stones,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, trying to find the words just before the clock struck 12 Sunday night.
Doug Pederson is a coach of the people. No idea is too weird. No time to run a play is ever inopportune. I don’t mean to say this should be his legacy, but it might turn out to be. He is a Super Bowl champion in his second year as an NFL head coach, in part, because of one of the strangest play calls in Super Bowl history, called on fourth down late in the first half in a three-point game, the biggest game of his life.
The Patriots are flying home losers today despite putting up a Super Bowl-record 613 yards and despite Tom Brady playing one of the games of his life. They are flying home losers because a head coach who was a backup NFL quarterback (Pederson) and an offensive coordinator who was a backup NFL quarterback (Reich) and a quarterback who was a backup NFL quarterback (Foles) beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They knew the only chance to beat the Patriots was to call a top-secret play when it wouldn’t have mattered if the Patriots had 15 players on defense.
Inside the Eagles’ locker room, I got Pederson alone and asked where this football ethos came from.
“Playing quarterback, watching a lot of teams, a lot of football,” he said. “You learn if you play passive, if you play conservative, if you call plays conservatively, you are going to be 8-8, 9-7 every year. Every year. Frank and I just having that collaborative spirit to talk about things and talk with our quarterbacks and just come up with ways of keeping this game fresh and fun and exciting for our players. And that's really where it all stems from.”
In this case, the key moment of the game, and of the season, came when Pederson, the Eagles’ play-caller, looked over his play sheet and fixated on the play he has loved for three weeks.
Target left bunch, Philly special.
On Saturday night, Pederson said to Reich: “We’ll build a lead, and in the third or fourth quarter, that play will be the dagger.”
I love five parts of this play.
• Reich told me the kernel of the idea originated from an industrious Eagles quality-control coach, Press Taylor. Said Reich: “Press has this, what we call this vault of trick plays. It's an immense vault, so every week we go into Press's vault looking for plays.” Taylor, it appears, found the play in a meaningless Week 17 game in 2016. At 1:10 this morning, The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler found a play from the Chicago-Minnesota game that doubtless led to Target left bunch, Philly special. Bears running back Jeremy Langford took a direct snap from center, quarterback Matt Barkley lined up behind the right tackle, and wideout Cam Meredith circled back behind Langford and took a pitch from him. Barkley leaked out of the backfield into the end zone. No one covered him. At the 11-yard line, Meredith tossed the ball to Barkley, two yards deep in the end zone. Touchdown. Watch that play and keep it in mind. You’ll need it. “We’re fine with ideas coming from anywhere,” Reich said. “Doug loves ideas.”
• The Patriots are known for their exhaustive research to discover the roots of a play, with mad scientist/analytics expert Ernie Adams knowing every play a team might run going back at least a couple of years. But if a play hasn’t been run by the Eagles, how would Adams have seen it? And how would Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia been able to prepare for it?
• Why Burton as the triggerman? He was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback out of high school in Florida. He pitched in high school. So Pederson knew Burton could throw it—and he saw it when the team practiced the play some this month. And the Eagles knew the Patriots wouldn’t expect Burton to throw a pass. In his four NFL seasons, he hadn’t thrown a single one.
• The Super Bowl’s a big stage. The Eagles practiced the play in privacy back in Philadelphia—in fact, they thought they might use it against Minnesota but didn’t need it in the 38-7 NFC title win 15 days ago—but once they got to Minneapolis, they didn’t want to expose it to prying eyes of outsiders, a few of whom are at every practice. They ran it twice on Friday afternoon in a walk-through practice at their Mall of America hotel, the Radisson Blu, a five-minute walk from the Orange Julius, seven minutes from Shake Shack. On one of the attempts, Burton threw behind Foles, but the quarterback reached behind him and made a nice grab. Burton didn’t beg, but he asked Pederson stridently, “Can we run this?”
• Foles had not been thrown a pass since his first season quarterbacking the Arizona Wildcats in 2009. He caught it … for a loss of nine yards.
This is what it takes to stun the Patriots: a play they’d never seen run by the Eagles, with a passer who’d never thrown an NFL pass, and a receiver who’d never been thrown an NFL pass.
Run in the Super Bowl, in a three-point game, against the best team of the generation. Burton’s glad he didn’t have much time to think about it.
“It was fourth down,” I said to him. “It was fourth down in the Super Bowl!”
“Doug’s got some guts, doesn’t he?” Burton said.
Eagles 15, Patriots 12. Third-and-goal from the Pats’ one, with 41 seconds left.
“I made up my mind we were going for it on fourth down if we didn’t make it on third,” Pederson said.
Incomplete. Fourth-and-goal now.
“We had a couple of options at that point, but then my eyes just kind of hit that play,” Pederson said. “I was thinking, ‘We keep talking about that play, and calling it in the second half of the game … but are we going to be in a situation like this, to put us up by two scores? There are certain plays that you spend time doing them, repping them, and you have no doubt they are going to work. Without a shadow of a doubt you know. I knew.”
Pederson called into his headset to Foles: “Target left bunch, Philly special.”
This is about to be a touchdown, guard Stefan Wisniewski thought when he heard the call.
“The end was a little wider than I thought,” Foles said. “So I really had to sell it like I’m not doing anything. It worked.”
You can cue up the Bears’ play at Minnesota from 25 months ago. It is a precise carbon copy, all the way down to Burton taking the pitch, throwing from his 11 and Foles catching it two yards deep. No one there. Touchdown.
“That play is Doug epitomized,” Reich said. “That play is our team, our season.”
So the Eagles took a 22-12 lead at the half. New England assumed a brief second-half lead, but from the half, it was like the Patriots were always playing uphill. New England is good at it, but the Eagles keep counter-punching.
One more note about this: After the play, Twitter was filled with people saying the Eagles were short one man on the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. The NFL requires seven offensive players to be on the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. And it does appear that six Eagles were within a yard of the line, which is permissible, and the seventh, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, to the top of the formation, was two yards off the line. In theory, the officials could have called an illegal formation with only six men on the line.
Except Jeffery claimed he got the okay from the official on the right sideline. The way formation rules work, players can look over at a side judge or other official nearby to see if he’s in the permissible spot.
“I’m on the ball,” Jeffery said. “I pointed. What are you talking about? Man, you know I checked with the ref!”
No call. Eagles win ... eventually.
The Eagles were as euphoric a team in the locker room as I recall after a Super Bowl. Pure happiness. Not a bit of guile. Reich said it, Pederson said it, a couple of players said it: This was a great football game, with two excellent teams (well, excellent offenses anyway) playing at their peak, without being cowed by the stage. And playing without being chippy.
So the Super Bowl champs fly Eagles fly to (what’s left of) Philly today to be received like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan after the Apollo 11 moon landing. Oh, it’s going to be crazy when that parade goes up Broad Street, likely on Wednesday.
“I don’t know who we’d compare to,” said defensive end Chris Long, who, after winning the Super Bowl with New England last year, migrated four hours down I-95 to play for the Eagles. “Maybe the Giants, when they made all those key plays to beat the Patriots a few years ago. We had so many guys go down, and it’s like nobody around here cared.”
The backup thing really is crazy. Backup quarterback as coach, as coordinator, as quarterback. Foles had a 115.7 rating in this postseason, completing 73 percent of his passes. Just crazy. It’s clear Foles has complete confidence in what’s drawn up during the week by Reich (with help from the Press Taylors all over his coaching staff) and called by Pederson on Sunday.
It’s what’s wonderful about football. No one saw this coming when Carson Wentz went down in mid-December with his torn ACL. Whoever says they did is a liar. But that’s football. Pederson preaches treating his foes as “faceless opponents,” and you can be sure he didn’t go all gee-whiz about Belichick and Brady in the run-up to this game. Learn the man across from you. Learn everything. Forget the noise. His preaching worked. The backups are on top of the mountain today.
“That sounds pretty sweet,” Reich said in a quiet moment an hour after the game, thinking about the backups beating the legends. “Especially against those two. Those guys are legends. They are literally living legends. If you want to be champions, there can't be any better way of doing it than beating Coach Belichick and Tom Brady, and doing it the way we did it.”
I told Pederson he was the Brett Favre of coaches now. He’ll wing it, and he’ll take his chances, and he won’t be safe. He’ll lose some games he probably should have won, but that’s okay. He’ll be bold, and his players will love him. And man, with the Wentz-Foles depth chart going forward, this could be the start of a great run in a place with a big-league inferiority complex.
“Hey,” Pederson said, shrugging his shoulders, “you just gotta keep throwing the ball. Keep slinging the mud.”
The next big thing, folks, is going to be pretty fun to watch.
What’s next for the Patriots
This Super Bowl felt strange from the start. You could walk 21 steps from the Tom Brady interview podium inside the JW Marriott at the Mall of America and be out in the concourse of the gargantuan shopping complex, overlooking Anthropologie. When offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took a wrong turn into the mall instead of into a hotel restaurant on Tuesday night, Patriots fans chanted for him to stay with the team instead of leaving to become the Colts’ next coach.
The game was unusual like that too. “We never had control of the game,” Brady said when it was over. “We never played the game on our terms.”
Sounds crazy to say when you throw for 505 yards, but Brady’s right—it never felt as if the Patriots had the game in their hands, not even when they took a 33-32 lead with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter. And maybe that’s a harbinger of things to come. The Patriots, despite some reports that McDaniels might not go to the Colts, left U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night expecting their offensive coordinator would have a Wednesday news conference in Indiana to be introduced as the next Indianapolis coach. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will be named Detroit coach this week. Special teams coordinator Joe Judge could leave as well, and some in the organization expect offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who turns 70 this month, to retire, though that’s not a sure thing.
Adam Schefter reported it was likely Bill Belichick would return to coach the team, and Brady assured Jim Gray on Westwood One radio on Sunday that he’d be back. There’s an expectation that Belichick and owner Robert Kraft could meet early in the off-season to iron out whatever differences they have in the wake of a damaging ESPN story in December about their relationship. But all sides seem to think Kraft, Belichick and Brady will be back for season 19 together in 2018.
It’s been a fantastic run of greatness, even with a third Patriots Super Bowl loss since 2007. We should let the dust settle, and see who will run this historic offense in 2018, before judging very much about the future. So we will. But with a coach turning 66 and a quarterback turning 41 in 2018, it’s a lot closer to the end of this era than the beginning. It’s reasonable to wonder if we’ll see the Patriots atop the football world again. The defense will need some major surgery, and coaches will have to be replaced effectively. The Patriots will nurse their wounds this week, and get back to the business of trying to make it nine Super Bowl in 19 years in 2019. It seems like it’s going to be pretty difficult to do that.
The Week That Was
A few non-Patriot/Eagle nuggets that made Super Bowl week interesting:
• The FOX deal for Thursday night football. In the last contract, NBC and CBS paid $45 million per game, and though both were interested in getting the games back, neither was gaga to re-up. FOX paid $60 million per game—11 games, $660 million per year, for a five-season term—at a time when ratings are declining. Two points to make. The NFL is still master of its domain in the TV world; 33 of the top 50 television programs in 2017 were NFL broadcasts. But it’s amazing to see the NFL get a 33 percent increase in rights fees after ratings went down 8 percent in 2016 and another 9.7 percent in 2017. It must be worth it to FOX to win 11 Thursday nights in the ratings, which will happen.
• Goodell, empowered. The NFL is back on its axis. When Goodell shared the news about the five-year Thursday night deal with some owners, Robert Kraft, the chairman of the NFL’s Broadcast Committee, was pointed in his praise—which is notable because Kraft was so bitterly opposed to the Deflategate sanctions that caused Tom Brady to be suspended for the first four games of 2016. I’m told Kraft said about Goodell: “He did this. He made this happen. You should be proud of him.” Peace in our time.
• Alex Smith traded, and the impact. My biggest problems with the deal: Washington, in acquiring Smith, gets four years older at quarterback (Kirk Cousins will play somewhere in 2018 at 30, Smith will play in D.C. at 34) … Smith, in 13 professional seasons, has won two playoff games, never won a conference title game, and in the past three years has lost in the divisional, divisional and wild-card rounds, respectively … Washington traded its best young defensive player, cornerback Kendall Fuller, in the deal. Now, it’s easy to see why Washington wanted to acquire Smith. Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen didn’t want to commit $28 million a year, or whatever it would have cost, to re-up Kirk Cousins (24-24-1 in three full starting seasons, zero playoff wins) for the next four or five years. So it’s sort of a win to get a good starting quarterback for five years at $22 million per. But they haven’t upgraded at the position, and to trade your best young defensive player while staying the same at quarterback or being marginally better, even while saving some money, is just not something I can get very excited about.
• Whither Joe Thomas? Interesting wrinkle about this top-three left tackle over the past decade: I saw him on Radio Row at the Mall of America, looking almost slim. Not really; he said he’d lost only 15 pounds, though it looked like more. Offensive linemen who are retiring often lose weight quickly after they leave the game. And Thomas has said he is still deciding whether to play a 12th season for the Browns in 2018, after missing the last half of 2017 with a torn triceps. But Thomas could be in the running for the ESPN “Monday Night Football” booth too, with ESPN pondering how to replace Jon Gruden. That, obviously, would make his decision tougher. Back to the weight. He told me he loses weight after every season, to make offseasons easier on his joints and his aching back. We shall see what Thomas does. The Browns, obviously, desperately want him back.
• This place really hates the Eagles. As our Conor Orr wrote in the Morning Huddle, the vile treatment of Vikings fans in Philadelphia (at least by several stories emanating from the NFC title game two weeks ago) made Minneapolis—Lyft drivers, mall-walkers, restaurant servers, from my casual investigation—pull hard for the Patriots. I ran into Vikings offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles on Radio Row, inside the Mall of America, and asked him about the Eagles trumping the Vikes and being the “home” team in this game. Sirles frowned and said: “This game will be like watching your best friend marry your ex-girlfriend in your own backyard. It stinks, obviously.”
On the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018
This was a fascinating Hall of Fame season. Every year before the selection meeting (Saturday, MSP Airport Marriott, 6:59 a.m. start time), I write down my order of the 15 Modern Era finalists. This year when I did that, I figured, even before the presentations began I would have voted my top 12 for enshrinement. So it was a deep class, to be sure.
After the meeting I was happy about the class, mostly. I loved Brian Dawkins, one of the truly great two-way safeties of his day and exceedingly deserving. Ray Lewis, a given. Brian Urlacher, nearly a given, and absolutely deserving. My one disappointment was no Tony Boselli. I feel like there hasn’t been a better left tackle in the game, post-Muñoz, in the 34 seasons I’ve covered the game, and I felt Boselli’s chances skyrocketed after two players who played fewer games (Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley) were inducted into the Hall last year. But I think the logjam of high-quality offensive linemen hurt Boselli—and will continue to do so, based on the discussions among voters on Saturday.
But all else was good, I thought.
Facts, figures, thoughts, stories from the voting session, which ended with the election of this class of eight football men: GM Bobby Beathard (Contributors Committee), linebacker Robert Brazile and guard Jerry Kramer (Seniors Committee), and the five modern-era players: safety Brian Dawkins, linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens:
• Time of meeting. Eight hours, 18 minutes.
• Voters present: 47.
• Time of discussions for each candidate: Robert Brazile 6:02, Jerry Kramer 23:36, Bobby Beathard 21:51, Brian Dawkins 23:14, Ty Law 16:15, John Lynch 17:28, Everson Walls 21:01, Edgerrin James 11:39, Ray Lewis 6:01, Brian Urlacher 14:23, Tony Boselli 20:19, Alan Faneca 8:44, Steve Hutchinson 12:10, Joe Jacoby 13:57, Kevin Mawae 31:42, Isaac Bruce 13:23, Randy Moss 34:45, Terrell Owens 45:18.
• Cut from 15 to 10: Boselli, Dawkins, Faneca, Hutchinson, Law, Lewis, Mawae, Moss, Owens, Urlacher. (Eliminated: Bruce, Jacoby, James, Lynch, Walls.)
• Cut from 10 to 5: Dawkins, Lewis, Moss, Owens, Urlacher. (Eliminated: Boselli, Faneca, Hutchinson, Law, Mawae.)
• We got the receivers right. I’ve found over the years that as the meeting goes on, the presentations and discussions late in the day get a little shorter. It’s human nature. Get it done. But the last two names on our list Saturday, as you just saw, were the longest discussions. We are forbidden from writing about and revealing specific points about the candidates outside the room, so I cannot be specific about what was talked about for each. But I can say the debate on both players was spirited, respectful, smart and less angry that it was in the past. We all know Moss had issues of effort in his career. We all know Owens had been a divisive figure on several of his teams, and it came back to haunt him in his previous two failed nominations. But this year, while both men had their detractors, it was clear that the greatness of the players on the field won the day. I’ve always had this feeling about people we consider for the Hall who may have a bad side. We need to consider everything about players—the good, the history-making, the ugly. And taken as complete packages, there is no question in my mind that Moss and Owens should be bronzed in Canton. I favored Moss, because he’s the most explosive play-making receiver I’ve covered in my 34 seasons following the NFL. But Owens is worthy too. Odd, but worthy. I’m glad they both got in.
• I voted for Jerry Kramer. Not saying I’m right, not saying I’m wrong. But I do believe when I enter the room I owe it to every candidate to have an open mind. Kramer was named as one of two guards on the NFL’s 50-year anniversary team in 1969 after an 11-year Packer career that ended that year. As many readers know, I’d been against Kramer’s candidacy. Two reasons: He had his case heard 11 times previously—10 times as a modern-era finalist, and once as a Seniors Committee nominees. He’d failed to get the 80 percent vote required to gain entry, ever. And now, 21 years after his last attempt, here came the former Packers guard who’d made the most famous block in NFL history, the pile-clearing block that allowed Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning sneak in the Ice Bowl 50 years ago, as a Seniors Committee nominee again. Basically, I didn’t like that today’s 48-member committee was being asked to clean up the mess left by the committees of yesteryear. Maybe those committee members were right in spurning Kramer. How could we know? We could watch some highlights, and rely on old timers’ recollections of his play. But of the 48 current members of the voting committee, no one covered the Packers back then. At-large member Vito Stellino did see Kramer play. But we didn’t cover the man. Those who did never voted him in.
Two: Five-and-a-half years ago, I spoke to Starr and asked him if there was anyone he felt had been forgotten by the Hall of Fame over the years. Yes, he said; tackle Bob Skoronski. Anyone else, I wondered? Starr said no. In recent months, and particularly over the weekend, the weight of Kramer’s accomplishments, and theories about why he never made it (old AFL writers on the committee thinking the Hall was overstuffed with Packers, for instance, as well as pushback from players and media over his enlightening, not-quite-Ball-Four-book Instant Replay), made a dent on me. I just thought there was a good chance I was wrong. I’m still not certain I was, but I listened to those I respect on the committee and put an X in the “Yes” box when I voted. Glad I did. For more on Kramer, read Andy Benoit’s story after he spent much of the evening with Kramer on Saturday.
• It’s about to get very crowded. The new candidates in 2019 include Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed and Champ Bailey, who made a combined 35 Pro Bowls. The newbies in 2020, the NFL’s 100th anniversary season, will be thinner—Troy Polamalu at the head of that class. It gets crowded in 2021, with Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson. So the job of the voters is going to get harder.
Opening Day is 213 Days Away
Thirty weeks and three days until the Sept. 6 Thursday night opener, and we’ve got these 11 games to look forward to in 2018:
• Green Bay at New England. Regular-season game of the year. I find this amazing: Assuming Tom Brady comes back in 2018 for his 19th season, this will be the second time Aaron Rodgers (34 on opening day) and Brady (41) will start an NFL game against each other. Rodgers played in relief of Brett Favre in a 2006 game … Rodgers missed the 2010 meeting with a concussion—his only missed start of that season … Green Bay won the 2014 meeting, the only head-to-head game between the greats, 26-21, at Lambeau Field. Each threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions that day. The 2018 game would normally be on FOX if played on Sunday afternoon, but the league might want it on Sunday night to get maximum ratings exposure. The networks could brawl over this game.
• Los Angeles at Los Angeles. Chargers at Rams, at the Coliseum.
• Oakland at San Francisco. Many reasons: Last Oakland-SF game in the Bay Area before the Raiders move to Vegas in 2020. Carr vs. Garoppolo. Gruden vs. Shanahan.
• Pittsburgh at Oakland. Shed tears. Likely the last game ever in the Black Hole for the Steelers. I hate that this rivalry is going away, even though this will be only the fourth meeting between the Steelers and Raiders in Oakland in the past 13 years. Pittsburgh at Las Vegas … not the same.
• Indianapolis at New England. Josh McDaniels returns.
• New England at Detroit. Matt Patricia and what might have been.
• Jacksonville at New York Giants. Tom Coughlin back in the Meadowlands, presumably in triumph.
• Dallas at Houston. Battle of Texas happens once every four years, which is not enough. Prescott-Watson will be cool to see.
• Jacksonville at Buffalo. Just wondering how Doug Marrone will be welcomed when he walks out of the tunnel for the first time since walking away from the Bills after the 2014 season.
• Houston at New England. The Broken Record Bowl: Fourth time in three years that Bill O’Brien brings his Texans to Foxboro.
• New England at Pittsburgh. Jesse James Revenge Bowl.
Finally, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz, the schedule czar, will have an excellent menu to choose from for the NFL’s opening night next September. With the Eagles hosting the first game, Katz and Rodger Goodell could pick from a slew of top quarterbacks to face Philly—unsure if the opening-night starter will be Nick Foles or Carson Wentz, because Wentz could still be rehabbing from knee surgery. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck and whoever quarterbacks Minnesota will travel to Lincoln Financial Field in 2018, as well as Dak Prescott, Eli Manning (presumably) and Alex Smith of Washington in division games.
Quotes of the Week
“I could have changed that game.”
—New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. The man who won the Super Bowl over Seattle three years ago with a goal-line interception was inexplicably benched by Bill Belichick as the Pats got run over by Philadelphia.
“You're going to see me playing football next year.”
—Tom Brady to Jim Gray of Westwood One Radio, on Brady’s weekly radio spot with Gray before Super Bowl 52.
“I give up.”
—NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, after the third-quarter touchdown pass to Corey Clement was upheld when it was deemed there was not enough evidence on instant replay to overturn the called TD.
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia. He did everything imaginable to make the world forget he is a backup quarterback. He went 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three touchdown passes, but the stats do not tell the story here. On the game’s biggest stage, Foles went toe-to-toe with the five-time champion Brady, even one-upping the league MVP by hauling in a pass (for a touchdown) after Brady dropped a similar opportunity earlier in the game. Foles was named the Super Bowl MVP and is now headed to Disneyland. What a story.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. An unreal performance—a Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards and three touchdowns—but don’t just take my word for it. “Tom Brady is unbelievable! Unbelievable! UNBELIEVABLE!” Eagle Chris Long gushed in the locker room. “The only way you beat Tom Brady is to keep attacking.” Philadelphia did, and that was the difference, as this next guy proved.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Brandon Graham, defensive end, Philadelphia. Brady and the Patriots had their chance to pull off another late Super Bowl comeback, down 5 but with the ball and 2:21 on the clock. But the Eagles defense kept attacking, and finally got to Brady. Brandon Graham tore off the edge, got around New England's Shaq Mason and knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand. Graham’s teammate Derek Barnett recovered and a very offensive Super Bowl finally had its signature defensive play. It would be the Eagles’ only sack of the game.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Doug Pederson, head coach, Philadelphia. Didn’t coach scared. That’s the formula to beat New England. Attack, attack, attack, and if you make mistakes or don’t convert the long throws or the change-up plays, you’re going to lose. But if you don’t take chances you’re going to lose too. In the first half, Nick Foles threw a lovely arcing 34-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery—perfectly executed on both ends—and in the second quarter, just before halftime, there was the play of the game, the fourth-down touchdown pass from the third-string tight end to the backup (now starting) quarterback, Foles. Pederson understood the ethos of this game. To beat the Patriots, play 60 minutes and play boldly.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jake Elliott, kicker, Philadelphia. The former high school tennis player, who began kicking on a lark in high school in Illinois, lined up for a 46-yarder in the final minute for insurance … and nailed it.
GOATS OF THE WEEK
Jordan Richards, safety, New England. Eagles ball, third-and-three at their 37, 1:46 left, first half. Philadelphia 15, New England 12. Foles looks for running back Corey Clement leaking out of the backfield on a wheel route to the right. Richards picks him up in coverage, but Clement gets two steps on him. This is something that Richards cannot allow. It’s clear the Eagles just need to convert to keep the drive going. They needed three or four yards. Because Richards didn’t do his job and lost coverage on Clement, the Eagles gained 55 yards on the play. Instead of Tom Brady getting the ball back and having a legit chance to tie the game at halftime or put the Patriots ahead with a touchdown drive, the Eagles got the late-half touchdown … and went into halftime with a 22-12 lead.
The New England placekicking team (snapper Joe Cardona, holder Ryan Allen, kicker Stephen Gostkowski). Missing two short kicks in a game is bad enough. Missing them in the Super Bowl, in one half of play, is inexcusable. On the first, a 26-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, Cardona snapped low, but Allen should have had it and put it down cleanly; he didn’t, and Gostkowski kicked a duck off the left upright. On a point-after attempt late in the quarter, Gostkowski simply kicked it wide left. Folks, this is the same thing as a 33-yard field goal. It’s a kick you make in ninth grade. Instead of a 22-16 halftime deficit, the Patriots trailed 22-12.
Stats of the Week
The two most prolific passing days by a quarterback in Super Bowl history—last year and this year—have been engineered by Tom Brady, in the supposed twilight of his career. The best two passing-yardage days in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl:
40 years, 178 days
SB 52: Philly 41, NE 33
39 years, 186 days
SB 51: NE 34, Atlanta 28
Brady is the first quarterback in history to have a 500-yard passing game—regular season or playoffs—after turning 40.
Per Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, Hall of Fame hopeful Kevin Mawae started 93 games in his career when a running back behind him rushed for 100 yards or more. That’s the most in NFL history.
While studying for the Pro Football Hall of Fame vote, I noticed this: Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison was held without a touchdown in 15 of 16 playoff games. That’s a stunning run of postseason invisibility, particularly when Peyton Manning is your quarterback.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The 2017 NFL MVP, Tom Brady, is 101 months (8 years, 5 months) older than the 2017 NFL coach of the year, Sean McVay.
I am a big “Jeopardy” fan. I grew up with the Art Fleming version, got one of the great thrills of my professional life when NBC did “Football Night in America” in the same 30 Rock studio as Fleming’s daily “Jeopardy” show and now watch the sneaky-clever Alex Trebek hosting the show. I love it. So last week, something happened on the show that I had never seen before: a full five-question category where none of the contestants even buzzed in on any of the five clues.
How football-unaware does one have to be to not buzz in on this clue: “Tom Landry perfected the shotgun formation with this team.” I mean...
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
PRIOR LAKE, Minn.—I went ice-fishing. No one died. Here’s the proof.
My thanks to Tom West of the Vikings, and to his friends, for making me feel non-incompetent (which was difficult) out on the ice. It was 10-below wind chill last Tuesday on the frosty lake. I did catch an eight-ounce Sunfish (which we put back), as well as two Grain Belt beers. What a treat.
Tweets of the Week
James Develin, fullback, New England. How about this: Develin has two sons, and his doctor bought them Develin’s 46 Patriots jerseys, and put their inky footprints on the number on the front of the jersey. Develin said he has one of the jerseys framed and will frame the other soon, and he’ll make sure they are family keepsakes.
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: It’s a special Super Bowl podcast, with Frank Reich, Jeffrey Lurie, Trey Burton, Josh McDaniels, Sage Rosenfels, Bill Polian … and a segment on the Hall of Fame voting process from the weekend with Mike Sando of ESPN.com and Jarrett Bell of USA Today. This one’s freshly made.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick thoughts on Super Bowl 52:
a. Great anthem, P!nk.
b. Interesting to see Malcolm Butler on the bench for the Patriots. He told our Albert Breer on Thursday that he’d had a “sh---- season,” and the Patriots played former Eagle Eric Rowe early … and it paid off. Rowe broke up a potential touchdown pass on the Eagles’ first series.
c. Best defensive player on the field for New England in the first quarter: Kyle Van Noy. Remember the Pats’ trade for him? Oct. 25, 2016: Patriots deal a sixth-round pick to Detroit for Van Noy and a seventh-round pick. Think of that—New England traded the 215th pick and got the 239th back. Negligible. And got an effective play-making linebacker.
d. First time both quarterbacks threw for more than 100 yards in the first quarter of a Super Bowl: Foles 102, Brady 120. That was a sign of things to come.
e. Amazing how much play-caller Doug Pederson has come to trust Nick Foles, and here’s why: the TD pass to Alshon Jeffery traveled 51 yards in the air, and landed right in Jeffery’s hands nine yards deep in the end zone for a touchdown.
f. Brady’s gotta catch that pass from Danny Amendola. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write in my life.
g. “Cooks will not return. Head injury.” The press-box announcement was a wow, and became a huge factor in the game.
h. How Gamecock-ey: Stephon Gilmore with the defensive play of the first half against his University of South Carolina roommate, stripping Alshon Jeffery, with the ball popping up in the air and Duron Harmon intercepting it.
i. Nelson Agholor showed America something—toughness, productivity, worthy of the first round.
j. Nice zebra-like fur coat, Floyd Mayweather.
k. Foles threw two bad passes all night—overthrowing Jeffery twice. That’s it. What a night.
l. Well, three: He waited too long to throw to Clement on the two-point conversion that would have made it 40-33.
m. Hell of a way to go out, Bob Angelo.
n. Angelo and three good friends, masters of their camera craft at NFL Films, shot their last games Sunday.
2. I think if Rob Gronkowski never played another football game, and I was still a Hall of Fame voter when he’d be eligible in 2023, I’d vote him into the Hall. He’s played 115 games, including 13 in the playoffs, and scored 12 playoff touchdowns. He's generally been uncoverable for so much of his career.
3. I think this was just a sloppy game for the New England defense. Time and again the Patriots missed tackles and allowed the Eagles to extend drives. The one that comes to mind: New England cut the Eagles’ lead to 22-19, and had Philadelphia with a third-and-six at the Eagle 19. Foles threw to Nelson Agholor well short of the first down, but Pats cornerback Johnson Bademosi let Agholor get out of his tackle, and Agholor gained 17. I know how the game ended, but that doesn’t absolve a whole slew of bad defensive plays by the Patriots
4. I think the Malcolm Butler fall from grace will be one of the great stories of the day after, and the week after.
5. I think, before you even ask, Carson Wentz is going to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback next season as soon as he is healthy. Period.
6. I think the league understands it has some rules problems, thankfully. Roger Goodell implied in his state of the league press conference that he wants to see the catch rule torn down and rewritten from scratch. That’s going to be hard, for sure, because every attempted simplification of the rule invites an opposite action. If a player is deemed to have caught the ball if he has two hands on it and two feet on the ground before he makes what’s become known as a football move, that would invite defenders to cream the ball-carrier more than is done now, trying to dislodge the ball. Regarding replay, Goodell said: “We did have more replay interruptions this year. I think that’s something we have to look at, we can improve on. You know, we spent a great deal of time in the offseason on game presentation. How do we make our game more attractive? Less stoppages, shorter stoppages when they do occur whether they’re commercial or otherwise. I think that’s one of the things we’re going to focus on—how do we do the replay in a way that will ensure correcting an obvious mistake but make sure it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game?” Here’s an idea: correct only the obviously wrong calls, not the replay marginalia.
7. I think kudos are in order to the NFL for giving away 500 tickets to the Super Bowl this year—to people far and wide, such as the youth football team from the tough neighborhood in Minneapolis, and the fire chief in Westchester County, N.Y., battling cancer. That's not a big deal to the NFL's bottom line, and it's a tremendous gesture of goodwill.
8. I think I think you’ll enjoy something we’re doing at The MMQB that’s new and interesting: a 13-part series, running every Thursday, following Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield between now and the NFL Draft. One story a week, each Thursday, by The MMQB’sRobert Klemko. Writes Klemko: “Mayfield is refreshingly honest for a high-profile draft prospect, and he provides a wonderful test case for the NFL's tolerance for a candid quarterback, a rare bird we very rarely encounter in this business. As Mayfield told me in his first interview, ‘I'm going to be honest because that's how I am. Apparently not everybody likes to hear the truth.’” Come back Thursday for more, and every Thursday until draft day April 26
9. I think you need to read this story about the overwhelming sadness of depression, from Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale. Tremendous job by Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, and even better for Barksdale to share his soul-crushing stories that nearly ended in suicide.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Really interesting discovery by Paul Lukas of The Undefeated, on a 52-year-old lost-and-now-found memo written by former player and club official Buddy Young, foretelling many of the future issues in the league regarding African-American players. Really a fascinating read.
b. Story of the Week I: by Mark Leibovich of The New York Times, a good state-of-the-league piece by a man writing a much-anticipated book on the same topic. Interesting tension between Arthur Blank and Robert Kraft at the top.
c. Story of the Week II: by writer/photographer Ted Jackson of NOLA.com, on former Super Bowl player Jackie Wallace’s lifelong struggle with addiction … and a crushing climax to the story.
d. Four below zero when I walked out of the press box early this morning. I sort of miss the 29 degrees and slush back in New York. Sort of.
e. Coffeenerdness: U.S. Bank Stadium did a terrific job in all ways but one in Super Bowl-hosting: No half-and-half for the coffee. Rather, Coffeemate. In such a pristine region, with great dairy out the wazoo, why the fake stuff for coffee?
f. Beernerdness: Thanks to the wonderful people at Fulton Brewery in downtown Minneapolis, near Target Field, for opening the brew pub to The MMQB’s tweetup last week. Friendly place, nice sound system, great beer (try the stout—with a hint, just a hint, of vanilla—if I’ve left any) and good company. An awesome evening.
g. Finally, a word of praise for Minneapolis-St. Paul. The weather was arduous, as it often can be in Minnesota in January and February. I’m not so bothered by that. At the Super Bowl, you’re indoors most of the time anyway. The rest of the stuff was fantastic. Well done.
h. Pizzeria Lola is a must-visit on your next trip to Minneapolis. Wow. That is some delicious pizza, with a Korean touch (which is interesting; I’ve never had Korean BBQ pizza). And it’s right in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. I’d love to sit outside there on a summer night. And I will.
The Adieu Haiku
Why we like football:
Exhibit A—Sunday night.
Doug’s some real fresh air