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Curious decisions lead to bitter defeat
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MINNEAPOLIS – The Patriots 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII was stunning not because of the end result, but more so the manner in which it happened.
The Eagles seemed to be a step ahead of the Patriots defense for 60 full minutes, and that was a defense that played the entire night without Malcolm Butler. But that wasn’t the only decision that was questionable.
New England appeared out of synch on the sideline all night, and it started early. The Patriots faced a third-and-two from the Eagles 9 early in the second quarter, and Josh McDaniels dialed up an odd jet sweep to Brandin Cooks. The wideout was stopped for a yard, setting up fourth-and-one.
Normally that would be an area the Patriots would be aggressive, but instead they opted for a chip shot field goal. The decision was made worse when Joe Cardona’s snap was wide to the inside, disrupting the timing and leading to Stephen Gostkowski clanking the left upright with his kick.
On the Patriots next possession, they again moved into Philadelphia territory and faced a third-and-five from the 35. This time McDaniels called a reverse pass back to Tom Brady. After James White started left and flipped the ball back to Danny Amendola, who lobbed a pass toward a wide open Brady that fell off the quarterback’s hands incomplete.
Now the Patriots decided to skip the 53-yard field goal, well within Gostkowski’s range, especially indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We just didn’t do enough to finish enough drives,” McDaniels said. “We got stopped in the red area a couple of times. We work all year for this game and I feel terrible for the guys in that locker room and it’s tough to come up a couple of plays short.”
McDaniels wouldn’t address the decisions on fourth down, instead deferring to Bill Belichick.
“Those calls are up to the coach,” he said, adding that there weren’t any discussions at the time.
Down the stretch there was another curious call, and while it likely wouldn’t have matter too much, the choice to try a reverse on the final kickoff return turned out to be a disaster.
The Eagles had just booted a field goal to take a 41-33 loss and were set to kick off with 1:05 left. Jake Elliott’s kick was sent high to the 7, where Dion Lewis fielded it and started to his right. He then handed off to Rex Burkhead, who was summarily dropped by the Eagles coverage team at the 9. That put Brady in an almost impossible position with no timeouts and the Patriots couldn’t complete the miracle.
“They had great placement on that kick and made it real tough on our guys,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “They made it tough for us to get leverage and we didn’t handle it well. Tip your hat to them – they kept it in play and they hadn’t been doing that.”
The reverse off the kickoff return set Brady and the offense back, and ultimately eliminated the Patriots last gasp effort.