By Sam McPherson
The long wait for Philadelphia Eagles fans is over; the team won Super Bowl LII on Sunday, defeating the New England Patriots, 41-33. It's the Eagles' first NFL title since 1960, and the championship is the city's first in a major North American sport since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Quarterback Nick Foles was named the game's Most Valuable Player, completing an amazing NFL journey that began in the City of Brotherly Love in 2012.
Despite its underdog status in all three postseason games, Philadelphia rode the arm of its backup QB to claim the Lombardi Trophy for the first time ever in team history. After leading for most of the game, Philadelphia overcame a late fourth-quarter deficit on its way to the huge victory. Foles completed a touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 2:25 remaining to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead.
After defensive end Brandon Graham sacked and stripped New England QB Tom Brady of the ball on the next possession, Philadelphia rookie kicker Jake Elliott made the third of his three field goals in the game to give the Eagles an eight-point lead. Brady moved his team to midfield in the final seconds, but the Philly defense denied the Patriots another Super Bowl comeback with a strong effort in the final minutes.
The Eagles gained 538 yards on offense, as Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught a TD pass from tight end Trey Burton, becoming the first QB in Super Bowl history to notch a scoring reception. All game, Foles made play after play to keep the Patriots defense guessing. He completed 28 of 43 throws, and his ability to make decisions on the "run-pass option" play calls was huge.
Running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount combined for 23 carries and 147 yards rushing, and Blount had a second-quarter TD run as well. Meanwhile, RB Corey Clement led the team with 100 yards receiving, and he also added a TD catch in the third quarter. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and Ertz were the workhorse receivers, combining for 16 catches and 151 yards through the air. Ertz' TD catch was the game winner, of course.
Kudos to the offensive line for not giving up a sack the entire game, as Foles generally had a lot of time to make throwing decisions, and his accuracy on the run was just stunning. This was the Foles that Eagles fans saw in 2013 when he led the NFL with a 119.2 QB rating, and now he's given the entire city a championship to celebrate forever.
How does a defense that gives up 8.5 yards per play and 613 total yards earn a "B" grade? By forcing the game's biggest turnover, of course, and by holding strong on the New England "Hail Mary" attempt on the last play of the game. It's not often you give up that many yards to the Patriots—let alone failing to force a punt—and win, but the Eagles just did it.
Philadelphia's defense was the beneficiary of its offense, which held the ball for 34-plus minutes in the game. That meant the Eagles never got too tired on defense, and that helped Graham finally get to Brady to register the game's only sack. When rookie defensive end Derek Barnett came up with the ball, it was the biggest defensive play of the game—and it all but handed the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia.
In a game where the New England defense was heralded for its bend-but-don't-break brilliance, it was actually the Eagles defense that turned out to be the better one in that category. Yes, Brady threw for 505 yards, but the Philly defense forced him into the game's biggest error at just the right time.
Special Teams: A-
What a mess the kicking game was for both teams in the first half, as Elliott missed an extra point, and the Patriots themselves missed an extra point and a field goal. All these errors turned out to be just another part of the chess match toward the end of the game, but Elliott came up huge at the end.
He made all three of his FG attempts, the last one from 46 yards while under a lot of pressure. The rookie kicker now holds the Super Bowl record for longest FG by a rookie, although he actually broke the old record (41 yards) twice—his 42-yard FG at the onset of the fourth quarter set the new mark originally.
The Eagles only punted once themselves, and perhaps the biggest play on special teams came very late in the game on the final kickoff: The Philadelphia coverage team pinned the Patriots back inside their own 10-yard line, and that made it very hard for Brady to mount any kind of legitimate comeback attempt.
Doug Pederson and his staff pulled all the right moves in this one, out-coaching New England's Bill Belichick and Co. The decision late in the first half to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line was pure guts—and genius, when it worked perfectly. The Burton-to-Foles play will be one of the top Super Bowl highlights for years to come. It also was a little brash, considering the Pats had already tried and failed to complete the same kind of play earlier in the game.
Overall, consider what Pederson just did: He won the Super Bowl with a backup QB, who made just three late-season starts, and Pederson did it against a five-time Super Bowl-winning coach on the other sideline. He adjusted his offensive game plans to fit the skills of his backup QB, and Pederson now is in the rare company of just a few NFL coaches that have won the Super Bowl in their first postseason.
Up Next: Celebrate!
The Eagles are the Super Bowl champions. They overcame adversity, and they beat the best to win the team's first NFL championship since 1960—when they handed Vince Lombardi his only playoff loss. It's nice when your NFL title game wins come over coaching legends. Philadelphia can celebrate for a while before the confetti settles and the work begins on defending the championship...later.
The Philly organization will have some decisions to make at QB, of course, with nominal starter and franchise QB Carson Wentz returning from injury. Foles certainly has earned himself a chance to start somewhere else, and it might be too expensive to keep both players on the roster. But again, those are dilemmas and questions for another day. The Eagles are NFL champions; nothing else matters right now.
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