It was until two weeks ago that I really fell for the Eagles. All season long, I ignored their record, even when they had Carson Wentz. I thought they would fall off. They never did. Then Nick Foles came in, and I for sure thought they would be done in the NFC Championship Game after picking them to beat the Falcons. Then they crushed the Vikings. After this monster-obliterating slaughter, my eyes opened. Golden waves came seeping in.
I learned more about Philadelphia. Video was watched. Numbers were scoured. I was amazed at how the team was built by trade and the way they overcame injuries, Doug Pederson’s constant tinkering with his scheme, Jim Schwartz bringing the blitz, Malcolm Jenkins doing it all, and the talent they had on both the offensive and defensive lines.
On Sunday, I thought Philadelphia would get an early lead before the Patriots came back and finished some miraculous comeback. There was no question to me that the Eagles were the better team. I just assumed they would lose like everyone loses to the Patriots. Instead, we had a twist ending on Sunday night. The Eagles let the dogs out one last time and finished off an unrelenting string of underdog wins, fulfilling some nobody believes in us mantra, while New England pouted off into some ugly sunset.
Here’s what I liked about Super Bowl LII.
1.) Down With New England
I talked to a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She brought up a point her old man made to her. He told her to enjoy watching Tom Brady play because he’s the greatest of all time, and one day you will get to tell people you watched him.
I’m done with him. I’m tired of the Patriots, I’m tired of the AFC being terrible and allowing them to walk into the Super Bowl, I’m tired of them beating the brains out of the Steelers, I’m tired of Tom Brady’s unicorn blood, I’m tired of the hoodie, I’m tired of teams playing scared against them, I’m tired of seeing them here every year. Yes, Tom Brady is the greatest of all time. Yes, Bill Belichick is the greatest of all time, but damn, I’m ready for something new.
The first time I remember watching Tom Brady play was the snow game against Oakland. I called my dad. He told me to put the game on, how it was one of the greatest things he’s ever seen. I turned off the Xbox. I watched the snow. The sack was a fumble. It was then, and it still is now. That was fifteen years ago. Ever since then, the Patriots have won, and they’ve won in the silliest of circumstances.
At first, Super Bowl LII went as I expected to. The Patriots started off slow and the Eagles got a ten point lead or so. Then in the second half, I figured the Patriots would make their move like a quadruped rounding the corner. New England would get a late lead, and then celebrate in an orgy of confetti. So when Rob Gronkowski caught a fade route touchdown over the puny Ronald Darby to make it 33-32 with 9:22 left, I thought, here we go. I could see 28-3, I remembered the Malcolm Butler interception, Donovan McNabb spewing, John Kasay kicking it out of bounds, and Troy Brown getting them into field goal position.
But Nick Foles wouldn’t have it. He led the Eagles down the field to take the lead back, making quick and specific short passes, including a fourth down conversion, that culminated in a slant route touchdown to Zach Ertz.
Then the play happened. It ended so quickly. The Patriots had two tim outs and the two minute warning to retake the lead until Brandon Graham strip-sacked Tom Brady and Derek Barnett recovered. The Eagles then kicked a field goal, and New England couldn’t drive 91 yards with zero timeouts.
Until Sunday, the Eagles had never won a Super Bowl. The Patriots have won five in the past fifteen years. The Pats will be back next season in a forever crappy AFC, and they will walk back to the AFC Championship Game again next year. But this year, this year they couldn’t do it, and all of America couldn’t be happier. Except of that pasty corner of old America.
2.) Strip Sack!
Aside from a quick Dante Fowler sack, the Patriots handled the Jaguars’ front four in the AFC Championship Game. Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell were passed around the interior of the line of scrimmage. Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming dominated the smaller and quicker Yannick Ngakoue and Fowler. After scalding Sacksonville, it wouldn’t be surprising if they had success against the Eagles, but to completely shut down one of the best pass rushes in football would be a tall order.
That’s exactly what the Patriots’ offensive line did. Those five zipped Chris Long, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett up. Brady was rarely pressured; when he was, he was able to step up and had enough time to still rip the ball.
Until the Patriots’ second comeback attempt. Their offensive line blocked perfectly for 98% of the game. Brandon Graham derailed it all in an instant.
The Patriots went in 1x1x3 personnel. Gronk was lined up tight on the right side of the line of scrimmage. They put Chris Hogan in motion across the formation to the opposite slot. Philadelphia lined up as they normally do. They had two ‘3’ techniques and two ‘9’ techniques. And as usual, they had Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham rush from the interior, with Derek Barnett and Chris Long rush from the exterior.
As Hogan crosses the formation, nobody moves. The Eagles stay in the same look.
New England’s offensive line shifts one gap over the left, and the right side plays man on man since James White is lined up on that side. Additionally, they shift towards their worst interior pass blockers. Left guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews are the Patrtios’ worst pass blockers, but combined they are tough for anyone to beat, even All-World interior rusher Fletcher Cox. This leaves Nate Solder blocking Barnett, right guard Shaq Mason blocking Graham, and Cameron Fleming blocking Long.
Graham gets wide with his rush. He attacks the outside shoulder. Mason slides over in fine position.
The problem Mason has is Graham gets his hands on his chest first. The low man usually wins in the run game; the first solid punch usually wins in the pass game.
With his hands inside and in control of the block, Graham is able to throw both Mason’s right and left arm off of him.
Now he has an opening. He has a way around the rush. Against great pass blockers, it takes a combination of moves to get around the blocker. A quick rip, an immediate swim...they just don’t cut it. Graham slaps the punch away first to create an opportunity.
When him and Mason reengage, Mason is turned to the line of scrimmage. He is no longer in the way of Graham. He’s a gate instead of a solid wall.
Graham then rips around the outside shoulder. When he begins this move, Long bends around the edge like he has throughout the game. And like the entire game, he is too deep upfield to make any real swipe at Brady. But he does get Brady to feel and move up in the pocket a little bit.
Brady steps slightly up.
Graham doesn’t play Brady when he climbs into his path. He plays the ball and sticks his big old claw into the pot to knock the ball out.
My favorite part about this play will forever be Brady throwing his empty hand toward the sideline. Doing anything he can to try and make it look like a forward pass not a fumble. This is what desperation looks like. This is heartbreak.
After getting absolutely abused by Solder’s aggressive pass set, Barnett comes to, and look, look at what he finds.
3.) Nick Flacco
This postseason, Nick Foles completed 77-106 passes (71.9%) for 971 yards (9.2 yards an attempt) and 6 touchdowns to 1 interception. On deep passes, he went 8-19 for 274 yards, which doesn’t seem like much. But when you remove the mucky Divisional Round, those numbers jump to 8-16 for 279 and 3 touchdowns. Foles was otherwordly pushing the ball downfield in these last two games. He made the correct decisions. He got the ball out fast and smooth. He was the exact opposite of the player who originally took over for Carson Wentz.
The easy thing to say is Doug Pederson is a great coach that put Foles in a perfect situation to succeed and knew how to play to Foles’ strengths exactly and whatever. The dude just made some throws. I mean, look at these bad boyz.
Never have I seen a player make a playoff run out of nowhere like this. Actually, I have. Joe Flacco once went 73-126 (57.9%) for 1,140 yards (9.0 yards an attempt), and threw 11 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. His touchdown rate was 8.7%. Now he’s the least valuable player in football, destroying the Ravens’ ability to put together a competent team because of his performance and top 1% contract.
Now, I don’t know if this Foles thing is a spark of meteor dust streaking across the sky and burning up in the atmosphere. I would be hesitant to expect anything from him long turn. For now, who cares? Foles was spectacular these last two games and is a Super Bowl MVP, something that seemed impossible and still does.
4.) LOL interception
Foles threw one interception this postseason. He put a perfect ball into orbit down the right sideline. When it tumbled, it hit Alshon Jeffery in the basket. When he squeezed it, the ball popped up, and he batted it back up like a SuperCuts balloon when he tried to corral it again. It bounced into safety Duron Harmon’s hands.
It was absolutely absurd and hilarious. It was also the only way Foles could possibly throw an interception. He was invincible. There was no way he was going to give the ball up by throwing it into double coverage off his back foot, or closing his eyes and heaving in into heaven. No. An interception thrown by him could only occur in the zaniest way possible.
5.) Brady Is The GOAT
The greatest quarterback of all time did it again at age 40. When most men are suffering from low-T and existentialism at that age, Tom Brady is throwing for 505 yards and 3 touchdowns against a top five defense in the Super Bowl. Throughout the game, he played from a cozy pocket and took advantage of his receivers quickly winning short routes against off-man coverage. He got defensive backs turned around on deeper throws. Of the 28 completions and 48 throws Brady made, these were my favorites.
Here’s Brady crawling away from a slight pass rush and throwing while moving to his left after finding Danny Amendola like an Easter egg sitting on top of a gutter of the same hue and same color.
This is a play action pass against the blitz that floats to Brandin Cooks. Brady takes the hit and delivers the easy completion. I haven’t heard from Cooks since.
Brady was 8-12 on passes that traveled farther than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. This one to Chris Hogan left me sweating. Woo.
Brady’s last touchdown of the game was a fade to Rob Gronkowski over Ronald Darby. The ball was perfect as always.
I’m mature. I’m an adult. I no longer hate when it comes to sports. I can’t wait to see some new blood come out of the AFC, but that doesn’t mean I am unable to appreciate and love what Brady was able to do when he stepped out onto the field. Although New England lost, although Brady lost a fumble, he was spectacular.
6.) Pork Skin Crackling, DB Tackling
This is the hardest tackle to make in football. You are standing still. Someone is running full speed at you. The bullet is coming. All you can do is get your head outside to try and stick it. Slam it down. Patrick Chung had a great game. In a game filled with great defensive back tackles, this one was the best. He stuck Corey Clement to prevent the first down and laughed at him once Clement got up to spread his lips and babble about.
6.) Breaking Tackles
Jay Ajayi, baby. I love watching this man break tackles. It’s despicable. I don’t care that he’s a high variance boom or bust back. These 20 yard breakouts are worth all of the one yard slumps.
7.) Feed the Gronk
Coming out of halftime and into the third quarter, the Patriots were down 22-12. They scored in 2:35 to make it 22-19. On this drive, Brady completed 5 passes on 6 attempts to Gronk. These tosses made up 68 yards. New England just ran him down the seam.
It culminated into a quick pivot route against, you guessed it, Ronald Darby again. Even out of Buffalo, even in death, Gronkowski will be waiting to catch passes over and around Darby.
Nick Foles may have won the MVP, but Doug Pederson won my heart. Most coaches would make excuses for losing Carson Wentz and so many other starters. They’d focus on next season. Not this man with his beautiful mop of grey hair. Instead, he tinkered and worked for weeks until he got Philly’s offense churning. He turned Nick Foles into the 2011 version of himself, won a Super Bowl with him, and made Foles a Super Bowl MVP. I thought I would never see Foles again after his stint in Kansas City last year went terribly, but here he is, doing the impossible.
In addition to that, Pederson outcoached Bill Belichick and didn’t surrender until he kind of did at the end. They did a great job matching the run with the pass to keep New England off balance. They exploited the Eric Rowe versus Alshon Jeffery match-up while it lasted. They used play-action perfectly to screw with New England’s head. They ran the ball up the middle in passing situations to split the Patriots’ wide defensive line splits on passing downs. They did it all.
Most importantly, the pedal was stuck, mashed down. Pederson didn’t waiver. He kept his hands around New England’s throat and their heads underwater, unrelenting, until a last gasp left them limp. He did the opposite of what Jacksonville did in the AFC Championship Game. He kept pushing the ball downfield. He went for it on fourth down. One came at New England’s two yard line, and the other at midfield, setting up their game-winning touchdown. Both of those decisions were calls the average coach wouldn’t conjure up. While most punted and kicked their way to 8-8, Pederson chewed and clawed.
He did kind of let up at the end, though. I was dying. I was hollering. After Brady’s fumble and New England ran out of timeouts, I was begging for Philadelphia to go for it one last time. Why give Brady one more chance with the ball even with zero timeouts and needing a two-point conversion? Why not end it there? Instead, Peterson let up for just a second. He gave the Patriots a chance to say goodbye. I wish he ripped the head off.
Regardless, Doug Pederson was spectacular for 99% of the game. Hopefully, the Eagles are a vessel for better football around the NFL. No matter what the math says, coaches are risk-averse. They are afraid to look stupid. It usually takes someone else having success first to take that first step before they realize and buy in. Hopefully this Super Bowl win will lead to more teams going for it, and more teams running interesting offenses instead of kicking and being married to the schemes they learned from crusty, inbred mentors.
9.) Pass-Catching Quarterbacks
THIS IS THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL. THE FUTURE IS NOW.
The only thing better than a quarterback catching a pass is a quarterback sad when he drops a pass. Poor little fella.
I can’t wait for nine months from now when a scourge of infants pop into the world, bloody and squabbling, with the name “Philly Special.”
10.) It’s Over
I love football, but damn, am I ready for it to be over. I’m ready to write and go back and watch things at my leisure. My weekends are as open and free as my heart now. The grass will soon be green. The birds will be my wings. A full life is ready to be lived, outside and in the grass. The 2018 season can stay the hell away from me.