MINNEAPOLIS — A backup quarterback playing like a Hall of Famer and a fearless coach digging deep into his bag of gadget-play tricks put a major, Super Bowl-size dent into the greatest dynasty in NFL history Sunday evening.
Tom Brady was at his legendary best for the New England Patriots. But it was the Philadelphia Eagles who emerged as the champions of a wildly entertaining Super Bowl LII, riding the passing of fill-in quarterback Nick Foles and the daring of Coach Doug Pederson to a pulsating 41-33 triumph at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“A lot of people counted us out,” Pederson said. “But that locker room believed in each other, believed in me.”
The Eagles won their first Super Bowl title, securing their first league championship since 1960 in the pre-Super Bowl days. They denied the Patriots what would have been a sixth Super Bowl crown with Brady as their quarterback and Bill Belichick as their coach.
Brady certainly did his part, throwing for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards and three touchdowns. It was a frantic game in which the two teams broke the Super Bowl record for most combined yards of total offense by the end of the third quarter.
The Patriots took their first lead in the fourth quarter on Brady’s second touchdown pass of the game to tight end Rob Gronkowski. But the Eagles converted a fourth-and-1 gamble by Pederson on their own 45-yard line with less than six minutes remaining. They cashed in with Foles’s 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 2:21 to play and then, after defensive end Brandon Graham poked the football from Brady’s hand on a sack for a fumble and turnover, place kicker Jake Elliott drilled a 46-yard field goal with 1:05 to go.
The Patriots had one last chance, but Brady’s desperation throw into the end zone fell to the turf incomplete as time expired.
“It’s disappointing,” Belichick said, “but proud of the way our team competed. … It’s a tough way to end up.”
Added Brady of his three Super Bowl defeats: “They’re all pretty disappointing. Losing sucks. You show up and you try to win. But sometimes you lose, and that’s the way it goes.
“We never really got control of the game. We never really played on our terms. We didn’t make enough plays when we needed to.”
Foles, who was named Super Bowl MVP, threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns to cap a wondrous postseason run after he took over for injured starter Carson Wentz late in the regular season. Foles threw touchdown passes to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the first half as the Eagles raced to a lead, and to running back Corey Clement in the third quarter. Tailback LeGarrette Blount ran for a touchdown, and Foles even had a touchdown catch on a beauty of a trick play dialed up by Pederson.
“I felt good,” Foles said. “I felt calm. The big thing for me was knowing I didn’t have to be Superman. …. I was just playing ball.”
Brady also threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hogan, and the Patriots received a touchdown run by tailback James White. The Patriots had to play without wideout Brandin Cooks after he suffered a concussion on a first-half hit by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
In the first half alone, the two teams combined for 673 yards of total offense. Brady and Foles totaled 491 passing yards, including 276 by Brady. Each quarterback had a pass thrown his way. There were two missed extra points, a missed two-point conversion and a missed field goal. The Patriots lost Cooks, one game after losing Gronkowski in the first half of the AFC championship game to a concussion suffered on a brutally jarring hit.
Foles was sharp from the outset, to the delight of the decidedly pro-Eagles crowd. He led the Eagles to an opening-drive field goal, which was matched by the Patriots on their first possession. The Eagles took control from there.
Blount, playing against the Patriots in the Super Bowl one year after playing for them in it, bounced outside for a 36-yard run, followed on the next play by Foles teaming with Jeffery for a 34-yard touchdown. Cornerback Eric Rowe, starting for the Patriots in place of mysteriously benched former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, had good coverage, but Jeffery made a fantastic leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
The Patriots were not quite in sync. A 50-yard connection from Brady to wide receiver Danny Amendola set up a scoring chance. But Belichick opted against a fourth-and-1 gamble, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski sent the football off the left upright after a mishandled low snap on a 26-yard field goal try.
Cooks exited the game in the second quarter. The Patriots had Brady wide open as a trick-play receiver soon after. But Brady could not haul in Amendola’s throw, having the football bounce off his hands. Belichick’s fourth-and-5 gamble resulted in an incompletion.
Blount struck again with a 21-yard touchdown burst. The Patriots answered with a field goal and then, after Foles threw a deflected-pass interception to safety Duron Harmon, White provided a 26-yard touchdown dash. No matter. The Eagles replied before halftime. Clement had a 55-yard catch and run, and the Eagles made their fourth-and-1 gimmick play work. A direct snap to Clement was followed by a toss to tight end Trey Burton, who threw a pass to the open Foles for the touchdown.
Pederson had his former Green Bay Packers teammate, Brett Favre, address Philadelphia’s players Saturday. Favre warned the Eagles not to let up and not to believe at any point they had the Patriots beaten, or they’d suffer the same fate as the Atlanta Falcons had a year ago. Still, it was the Patriots who struck first in the second half, getting to within 22-19 on Brady’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
But the touchdowns were coming in rapid succession. Foles threw a 22-yarder to Clement on a touchdown that was upheld on a close instant-replay review despite what could have been a bobble by Clement. Brady came right back with a 26-yarder to Hogan. The Eagles extended their advantage with Elliott’s field goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, but Brady’s 4-yard touchdown lob to Gronkowski and the extra point gave the Patriots their first lead.
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