MINNEAPOLIS — Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we try to make sense of that entertaining absurdity of offense we just witnessed in Super Bowl LII in U.S. Bank Stadium, a history-making win for the Philadelphia Eagles….
- The symmetry is impossible to miss. In essence the 2017 season started in Philadelphia last April, when the city staged that orgy of a three-day NFL draft that doubled as a celebration of its passion for its Eagles. And now it has ended with those long-denied but beloved Birds atop the football world for the first time in the 52-year Super Bowl era.
A last-place team in 2016, the Eagles owned the stage like no other team in 2017, and when all was said and done in this football season, the Eagles beat the defending champions in perhaps the most thrilling Super Bowl ever: Philadelphia 41, New England 33.
It's underdogs no more for these Eagles. They're top dogs now. A year after the Falcons wilted against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, a different sort of Bird made all the difference this time.
If this Super Bowl was known as the Patriots vs. Everybody, score one for Everybody. New England put up a furious defense of its Super Bowl title, even taking its one and only lead of the game with 9:22 left regulation. But these Eagles would not be denied, and even Tom Brady's 505 yards passing — the most in any NFL postseason game ever — wasn't enough to stave off Philadelphia's title drive.
One team in this epic Super Bowl was born in 1960, the other hadn't won a league championship since 1960. But the well-decorated Patriots had to take the back seat to a Philadelphia franchise whose time had finally come.
What a great accomplishment for an Eagles team that went 7-9 last season, losing seven of its final 10 games. Philadelphia is one of the flagship franchises in the NFL, and after almost two decades of consistent success, the Eagles have a championship to toast and commemorate. No more can the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins taunt Philadelphia as the only ring-less member of the NFC East.
Sunday night in frosty Minneapolis changed everything for the Eagles, who are no longer green with envy.
- For the Patriots, their season ended pretty much like it started, with a torching by an opposing offense and a defense that never seemed to make a key stop all night. And there's plenty in common with Sunday night and the 42-27 drubbing New England suffered in its Week 1 Thursday night opener at home against Kansas City.
It was Andy Reid's current team, the Chiefs, who handed the Patriots that surprising defeat in their first game of the season, and his former team, coached by his ex-quarterback and offensive coordinator in Doug Pederson, who did the same in the last game of the season.
Credit both the Eagles and the Chiefs for never once backing down against the favored Patriots. They knew to be the best, you have to beat the best, and playing cautious wasn't going to get it done.
"We just wanted to stay aggressive,'' Pederson said in the giddy post-game confetti shower. "We came into the game saying we're going to stay aggressive with (quarterback and Super Bowl MVP) Nick (Foles).''
So the New England team that was predicted by some to go 16-0 instead finished 15-4 overall, narrowly missing out on a record-tying sixth Super Bowl ring. The close call came 16 years and a day after the Patriots' first Super Bowl win, in New Orleans against the Rams, but this time New England's comeback magic ran dry.
- In game that the teams combined for a staggering 1,151 yards of offense — making it the most prolific game in the NFL's 98-season history in that regard — naturally it was a play on defense that essentially settled matters. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham stormed in to sack Tom Brady with 2:09 to play, and the ball was recovered by fellow defensive end Derek Barnett. It was the Eagles only sack of the game, and the only turnover by New England.
I hope NFL Films had extra batteries for this one. Because how do you begin to capture all the big plays we saw? There was only one punt in the entire game, by the Eagles in the first half. This was also the first Super Bowl ever with both teams scoring at least 32 points.
Maybe defense really does win championships, but it took almost the entire game for anyone to show up on defense Sunday night.
- As it turns out, Jeff Hostetler was right. He told me in mid-December that he thought Nick Foles could do the job and keep the Eagles' Super Bowl dreams alive, even after starter Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. Hostetler, the former Giants backup-turned-starter, set the bar high with the relief job he did in replacing the injured Phil Simms in 1990. The Giants lost Simms in mid-December, and then went on to win Super Bowl XXV against Buffalo the following month. Foles is now just the third quarterback to make three or fewer regular-season starts and then win a ring, joining Hostetler and Washington's Doug Williams.
In the karma department, all three were NFC East teams that stayed resilient and turned into champions.
Foles was magnificent in Philadelphia's final two games of the postseason, completing 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots, adding an improbable touchdown catch to cap his remarkable night.
- With apologies to Sean Payton and the Saints' onside kick to start the second half in eight years ago in South Florida, the Eagles calling that fourth-down direct snap reverse pass from tight end Trey Burton to Foles will go down as the gutsiest and most creative Super Bowl call ever.
I thought Pederson was being fool-hardy to pass on the easy three points — then again, nothing was easy in the kicking game in the first half — and go on fourth down and 1. But Philly converted 20 fourth downs this season, including the Burton pass, and credit the Eagles for staying aggressive in a game where the teams combined for a staggering 673 yards of offense in the first half.
Consider that New England in the first half had three plays of at least 40 yards, averaged 9.7 yards per play, and got 276 yards passing out of Brady, and were still trailing by double digits at 22-12. Maybe it was the Eagles defense that did the bending, but not breaking, rather the Patriots, who are known for that sort of thing.
- Remember when the NFL said it wanted to make the extra point a competitive, exciting play again? You can consider that one mission accomplished. Both teams missed extra points in the first half, with New England's Stephen Gostkowski missing wide left, and Eagles kicker Jake Elliott missing wide right on his first attempt. Philadelphia also had a failed two-point conversion pass, when it was chasing a makeup of the earlier missed point-after kick, and the Patriots missed a short field goal, hitting the left upright after a botched hold.
No one will ever duck out to the kitchen or bathroom on a PAT again. Especially in the Super Bowl.
- Between the showings turned in by Foles, running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Alshon Jeffery, what an impact the Eagles free-agent class made in this game, and this postseason. Jeffery's 34-yard touchdown catch in the first half was a thing of beauty, and Blount had big runs of 36 yards and 21 for a touchdown en route to 14-carry, 90-yard night that helped keep the Eagles offense in balance. Jeffery finished with three catches for 73 yards and that one score, and receiver Torrey Smith chipped in with five receptions for 49 yards.
Throw in the four-catch, 100-yard game rookie running back Corey Clement contributed, and the Eagles on Sunday were helped immeasurably by players who weren't even on the roster last season.
- Okay, Alberto Riveron. Whatever you say. I'm all for ruling the 22-yard Clement touchdown a legal catch in the third quarter, but the problem is that play wasn't judged a good catch for most of the season. So the standard shifting at some point between the regular season and the playoffs still makes for a whiplash effect, and it's not a good look for the league.
Clear and obvious in the NFL is neither. Combined with the question of whether Zach Ertz completed the process of the catch on the game-winning 11-yard touchdown grab with 2:21 remaining — and I thought that one would be overturned as well — the league probably can't wait to change the catch rule to something more cut and dried, removing the subjective going-to-the-ground judgment call. Let's hope the survive-the-ground clause doesn't survive the offseason once the competition committee goes to work on the catch rule.
- What a puzzling and hard to defend turn of events to see Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler — the team's one-time Super Bowl hero — benched for the biggest game of the season, other than special teams duty. New England coach Bill Belichick said it was not for disciplinary reasons, but offered no other than insight other than saying he deemed the move in the best interests of the team.
Butler admittedly struggled for a good bit of this season, but given how the Eagles gouged New England's pass defense, Butler's total absence was a development that dumbfounded many. Including the 2018 potential free agent, who has almost certainly played his final game for the Patriots. New England gave up 538 yards of offense to the Eagles, to the most allowed by any Belichick-coached team.
"They gave up on me,'' said Butler after the game, according to ESPN.com. "F---. It is what it is. I don't know what it was. I guess I wasn't playing good or they didn't feel comfortable. I don't know. But I could have changed that game.''
Maybe not. But Patriots fans would have at least liked to see him try.
- Foles has now started four postseason games in his six-year NFL career. His passer rating in those playoff games have been: 105.0 against the Saints in 2013; 100.1 against the Falcons in the divisional round this season; 141.4 against the Vikings in NFC title game; and 106.1 against New England in the Super Bowl.
And wasn't it only a month ago that almost everyone presumed the Eagles season was effectively over without Carson Wentz under center?
- And the MVP jinx rolls on. Entering Sunday, the last eight winners of the Associated Press NFL MVP award to have made the Super Bowl all lost the game, a streak that started with Kurt Warner in 2001. You can make it nine, now that Brady and the Patriots feel prey to upset.
Warner was also the last MVP winner to earn a ring the same season, turning that trick in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams, when he was Super Bowl MVP as well. Oakland's Rich Gannon (2002), Seattle's Shaun Alexander (2005), Brady (2007), Peyton Manning (2009 and 2013), Cam Newton (2015) and Matt Ryan (2016) all took home the MVP but lost out on the big prize in the Super Bowl.
- The Eagles win ends the AFC's recent mini-run of Super Bowl dominance. The AFC had won three Super Bowls in a row and four out of the last five, dating to Baltimore's win in 2012. The only NFC winner during that span was Seattle in 2013.
Philadelphia becomes the first NFC East club to win a ring since the Giants, who took the most recent two titles, in 2011 and 2007.
- This year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class isn't perfect, but it's about as close to right on the money as any in recent memory. I've got no real issues calling Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher first-ballot Hall of Famers, and it was time to make the Terrell Owens controversy go away by inducting him based on his weighty statistical accomplishment, regardless of his reputation for locker room divisiveness.
Along with Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard, the Hall added no lightweights this time around. It blows my mind that Kramer makes it 32 Packers now enshrined, but his long wait needed to finally end as well.
Covering Randy Moss in the first two seasons of his career in Minnesota was one of the more interesting high points in my years of NFL coverage. Moss was as unique a game-breaking talent as anyone I've ever seen, and there was little doubt in my mind early on that he was Canton-bound some day.
Among the finalists not elected, I still think safety John Lynch, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, center Kevin Mawae, cornerback Ty Law and guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca will all be wearing gold blazers at some point. But the Class of 2018 was steep competition.
- Quite the haul of individual hardware for the Rams at the NFL Honors program Saturday night. Los Angeles cleaned up with Coach of the Year Sean McVay, Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley and Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. It just shows once again that there was talent aplenty on the Rams roster, but the coaching prowess never remotely matched it until this season.
For the record, I voted for all eight of the winners of the NFL's major awards that are given out by the Associated Press: McVay, Gurley and Donald, as well as MVP Tom Brady of New England, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as Assistant Coach of the Year, Chargers receiver Keenan Allen as Comeback Player of the Year, Saints running back Alvin Kamara as Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore as Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- You're on the clock, Atlanta. Next up is Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, 2019, in the city's first Super Bowl since the Rams-Titans classic in January 2000. Let's hope the ice storm that nearly paralyzed downtown Atlanta that week is not duplicated, and the Falcons take their best possible shot at snapping the now-52-year streak of no team playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium. After Atlanta, the Super Bowl host city rotation is Miami, Tampa, and Los Angeles.
Ridiculously Cool Football Card of the Week
Make that the Ridiculously Expensive Football Card of the Week. And no, you better believe I don't own this one. This 2000 signed Tom Brady rookie card — something called a Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket championship version — went for a cool $250,000 on an eBay auction this week, easily breaking the record for the highest price paid for a Brady collectible. Only 100 of these were produced and the one that sold was graded a 9 out of 10, in mint condition. For a little perspective, Brady's salary as a rookie in 2000 was a mere $231,500, so theoretically his rookie-season self couldn't have afforded what this card came to be worth in early 2018. GOAT, indeed. And that apparently extends to card value as well.