Another historical performance for Tom Brady wasn’t enough to slow down the Philadelphia Eagles, who soared to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history with a 41-33 win.
The most combined yardage between teams in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl somehow didn’t benefit the league’s No. 1 offense from the regular season.
New England’s 29th-ranked defense from the regular season picked a terrible time to return to old habits.
And yet on a night when the Eagles and their fourth-ranked defense from the regular season did virtually nothing to slow Brady and the Patriots, it was Brandon Graham breaking through the offensive line to strip-sack Tom Brady just shy of the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter that won the game. Derek Barnett fell on the ball with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter, ending Brady’s latest bid for an incredible comeback just two plays into the drive.
"Missed a lot of opportunities in the first half," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. "Didn't play good enough defense, didn't play good enough in the kicking game. It just wasn't quite enough against a good team like Philadelphia."
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, thrust into starting duty late in the regular season after an injury to Carson Wentz, sure didn’t look the part of a backup. He shredded the Patriots’ defense to the tune of 373 yards on 28-for-43 passing, throwing three touchdowns and one interception en route to earning Super Bowl MVP honors.
He kept Philadelphia ahead of New England for almost the entire game until Rob Gronkowski’s second receiving touchdown of the night completed the game of catch-up the Patriots had been playing since the score was tied at 3-3. Gronk’s TD and subsequent Stephen Gostkowski point after attempt gave New England a 33-32 lead, which wound up being short lived thanks to the heroics of Foles.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson rolled the dice in keeping his offense out on the field on a fourth-and-1 with less than five minutes to play from his own 46-yard line. Foles kept the drive alive with a completion to Zach Ertz, a gamble that paid off when Ertz survived the ground on an 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:21 left in regulation.
That first play to Ertz wasn’t the only fourth-down conversion that Pederson took a massive risk on. Facing fourth-and-1 late in the second quarter, he dug deep into his playbook unleash one of the wildest trick plays in Super Bowl history. Third-string tight end Trey Burton lined up in the shotgun and threw a pass to Foles, who had lined up just off the line of scrimmage where Burton would normally be at tight end. Burton dropped a dime to Foles, who hauled it in to become the first quarterback to catch a touchdown pass in Super Bowl history.
Save for the fumble, Brady did almost nothing wrong. Playing in his eighth Super Bowl, he set a new single-game record for passing yardage in the Super Bowl for the second year in a row; he eclipsed last year’s mark of 466.
Brady finished 28-for-46 passing for 505 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. The only thing standing between him and a sixth Super Bowl title wound up being the clock, as Philadelphia masterfully played it down the stretch.
"It's tough to lose these games, but again, you can't win the game if you're not in the game," Brady said after the loss. "You play the game and sometimes you lose and I'm disappointed and wish we could have dome a better job, but we fought to the end and I give the Eagles a lot of credit. They played a great game, they have a great team and those guys played really well."
There was only one punt all night in the offensive showcase, which also saw the Eagles’ fourth-ranked defense from the regular season susceptible to big plays over the course of the game.
Danny Amendola caught eight passes for 152 yards, while Chris Hogan hauled in six passes for 128 yards. Gronkowski, in his return to the Super Bowl after missing last season’s game with injury, caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
With the ball on their own 9 with 58 seconds left and no timeouts, the Patriots had one last chance to square things up with the Eagles. But the clock struck midnight after Brady’s last-ditch Hail Mary fell to the turf as time expired, eerily reminiscent of his two previous losses in the Super Bowl.
Of note, starting cornerback Malcolm Butler did not play a single snap defensively for the Patriots. No clear reason has yet been given; the broadcasting team on NBC referred to it as a “coaching decision.” Butler battled the flu earlier in the week and did not travel to Minnesota with the rest of the team on Tuesday.
Gronkowski also wouldn’t fully commit to returning for a ninth season in his postgame press conference.
“I’m definitely going to look at my future for sure,” Gronkowski said. “I’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.”
With the loss, the Patriots fell to 5-5 as a franchise in the Super Bowl all-time. Their 10 appearances are still two more than any other franchise.
The Eagles, who lost Super Bowl XV and XXXIX – the latter against New England after the 2004 season – have finally joined the rest of their NFC East brethren as a Super Bowl champion.
There are now only 12 NFL franchises that have yet to win a Lombardi Trophy.