The Eagles made one of the only big defensive plays of the game and beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 52 for their first championship last night. Before we get too heavily into the “what the hell happened” of it all, I think it’s important to say the Eagles played the perfect game. So few teams can put together the flawless 60-minutes of effort required to take down Tom Brady and steady strangulation of the Belichick Pats but that’s what Philadelphia did on the biggest stage and for all the bickering about what the Patriots did or didn’t do, Philly deserves full credit for what they did.
It’s also important to remember that despite one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory (which is saying a lot) Tom Brady still got the ball back with plenty of time to win the game. That’s where it felt like this one was heading, until it wasn’t because Brandon Graham made the clutch play that the Patriots defense could not.
So yes, there’s plenty to unpack from this one, and most of it will take an entire offseason, but in this single game the Eagles were the better team and for whatever reason I’m not finding it all that hard to swallow. It’s been a while since I’ve been in my Patriots cave of misery. The last time I was here was January of 2016 after a frustrating loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
There were some cobwebs in the cave, some dusty pictures of SB42 and SB46 and Peyton Manning as a Bronco, but there’s a strange comfort in the cave of misery. This is where most NFL fans exist full time, and we’ve gotten far more reprieve than all of them. If anything, this eighth Super Bowl trip was just a reminder of how hard it is to do what the Patriots have done. A better team got them this time, but I think there’s at least enough ammo in New England Patriots Football Weapon for another strong run next season.
Of course there are tons of questions as to what that weapon will look like exactly, but we’ll dive into those in the coming days and weeks.
First, let’s just vent about the Super Bowl…
— Let’s start with the benching of Malcolm Butler, whose rise and fall from Super Bowl hero, to almost-shutdown corner, to not playing a snap in the Super Bowl three years later is just insane. Allow me to join the chorus of everyone wondering if Butler could have maybe just maybe helped out a defense that was absolutely shredded early and often? In my gameplan I did write that I thought Eric Rowe was the best fit on Alshon Jeffrey, who had three near-miraculous catches despite good coverage on him generally, so from that starting point I can almost rationalize a reduced Butler role a tiny bit. But from there it’s just an absolute head scratcher, especially as the Pats had zero answers for the Eagles attack. Now there are reports Butler was demoted in practice around the bye week and things that seemingly started with last offseason’s contract unrest spilled over into the season and basically ruined the year and especially the Super Bowl. No question now, Butler is gone this offseason.
— Not sure I’ve ever written this but I hated the job the coaching staff did top to bottom. I didn’t get the Butler thing, the offensive gameplan was so not what I wanted and when they did do what I wanted (ride the running game) it sparked the offense, yet they kept abandoning it. There was too much gadgetry instead of just going out there and pounding the run and Gronk. Defensively there were obviously few adjustments and no matter what they tried to scheme up no one could get Foles uncomfortable. And then you have the missed field goal and extra point which gives us a rare trifecta of crappy performances in all three phases.
— Of course the one constant is that despite it all, Tom Brady hung in there and did enough to help his team win. In that regard Brady has done it in all eight Super Bowls, which is crazy. None of them were ever lost because Brady shit the bed. So you can throw Montana’s 4-0 SB record in my face but Brady played twice as many big games and if he had better support in them he might be 8-0. Of course it’s a team game and he could just as easily have lost some of those games too, but when you put Brady alone under the microscope he did his job. Overall he and the weapons around him were pretty good, but were killed by a weird gameplan and a non-existent defense.
— Do you think this tempers the excitement a bit for what Matt Patricia is announced as Lions head coach? Rough game to be coming off of before you start your first head coaching job. I don’t know how much of BB is in the Matty P defensive style now, but I’m excited to see another coordinator and maybe just maybe get away from every team going up and down the field on us at least in the first half.
— I just keep going back to those sprinkling of effective runs by Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. I just wish there was more of that in the first half. And maybe it could’ve helped keep the unstoppable Eagles offense on the sideline a bit more? The Pats lost the TOP battle 34:04 – 25:56.
— I started this year wondering where the new clutch players would come from without guys like Ninkovich and later Hightower, and the answer was nowhere. No defender rose to the moment and they certainly didn’t do it collectively. That was the hallmark of this defense all season. They suck in the first half, then step up and lock it down in the second half. Well not in the Super Bowl. Save a punt and the interception in the first half, the Eagles scored every time they had the ball. They got big plays. They were aggressive and converted two fourth downs, and that’s exactly what you need to do to beat the Patriots. The Patriots defense had no answers and looked like a team who missed all those veteran pass rushers that were there in Super Bowl 51.
— 33 points, 500 yards of offense, one penalty for five yards and even their first takeaway in five games… really should’ve been enough.
— Before getting crunched Brandin Cooks seemed over his head in the Super Bowl. He was trying to do too much.
— Not buying that Gronk is really considering retiring at all. Everyone is bummed and reflective after a loss like this. He, Brady and Belichick are all back in 2018 and that’s all that really matters for this team being a baseline Super Bowl contender.
— James Harrison playing 91 percent of the snaps was remarkable but he just couldn’t make that one big play the Patriots needed out of him.
— Bottom line is you’re going to lose when you give up 41 points. We can split it up into third downs, fourth downs, or however else we want, but points are the bottom line. When you have Jordan Richards out there playing a significant role should it really be all that surprising the Pats couldn’t get off the field? I’m not usually a “blow it all up” kind of blogger, but with Patricia’s departure this Patriots defense certainly needs to be remade to a large extent.
— Is there a sense of relief out there? I sure feel strangely relieved. I don’t know the true level of tension in Foxboro, maybe not 2009 level, but there was something off about this team and the performance in the Super Bowl is proof. For that reason hitting the reset button feels good. Thinking about Edelman and Hightower coming back. Thinking about the infusion of new coordinators and a new attack. Thinking about squeezing one last season of dominance out of MVP Brady. All those things are just refreshing, but most of all it’s just a needed break from being in the media spotlight and the Super Bowl hype train.
The 2017 Patriots sure were a unique squad. They overcame devastating injuries to get to the Super Bowl, something they had never really done after being his as hard as they were with the injury bug, but against the Eagles they were exposed. Every fault was magnified by the Eagles perfect attack. Their problems with the RPO, bunch sets, big plays, the neutered short passing attack, the tendency to ignore the run instead of ride it… everything was on clear display as it was for much of the 2017 season.
Against lesser teams on smaller stages the Pats could hide or get away with most of those flaws, but not against a team that was completely on fire. Really, the fact that they still almost won is a huge feather in Tom Brady’s hat in my opinion.
You hate to oversimplify it all but if the difference was one more third down stop. You can’t go 10-16 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down and expect to win. Really there should’ve been at least two more third down stops if we’re just expecting a barely competent 50 percent defense. Then the Patriots win walking away, but oh well, it was not meant to be for the 2017 Patriots.
We’re on to the offseason where the 2018 Patriots will look a lot different. That’s exciting and yes, a bit scary. 2005 was the last time they lost both coordinators like this and it was one of the worst seasons of the dynasty. We’ll see if they can bounce back, because time is running out rapidly.