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Super Bowl LII: The One That Got Away


Let me know if you’ve heard this one before: Tom Brady in the fourth quarter, down a handful of points in the playoffs, and trying to drive his team down the field for a go-ahead score.

If this situation sounds familiar, it’s because Brady has had 53 game-winning drives (42 of them being 4th quarter comebacks) and has 11 of these game-winning drives in the playoffs.

It’s been a little over a week now since the Patriots’ heart-wrenching loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. There has been a lot to digest from both sides and as the dust settles, I think we can take a look and reflect about the one that got away.

With 2:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, Brady and the Patriots got the ball back on offense and had a chance to, once again, come from behind and secure a sixth Super Bowl title during the Brady-Belichick era. The graphic of Brady’s comebacks in the playoffs flashed across the bottom of the screen on the NBC TV broadcast and the world was informed that this was all too familiar for this quarterback.

For many Patriots fans, it was the perfect scenario: despite never being in control of the game, Brady would continue to pick apart the supposed Eagles vaunted defense and lead the team down the field for one final touchdown of the 2017-2018 season. The best case scenario would be for the Patriots to score with almost no time left on the clock. The worst case scenario would be the for the Patriots to leave too much time on the clock.

It did not cross many fans’ minds that a turnover would occur at any point during that drive. Why would it? Brady was rarely rushed or hit, never sacked, and the team did not have any turnovers up until that point.

After the first play of the drive, an 8-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, it looked like it was turning into another vintage Brady drive.

And then it wasn’t…

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sits near midfield at U.S. Bank Stadium as a last chance Hail-mary attempt falls incomplete. The Patriots moved to 5-3 in Super Bowls during the Brady-Belichick era

(Source: Daily Snark)

Much has been said post-Super Bowl LII about what could have been:

  • What happened to Malcolm Butler that he never saw the field for a defensive snap?
  • What happened to the Patriots’ defense that could not stop anything all night?
  • What happened to the Patriots’ “bend but don’t break” defense on third and fourth downs?
  • What happened to Stephen Gostkowski and the kicking game?
  • What happened with the Danny Amendola pass to Tom Brady?
  • What happened to the offensive line on that essentially, game-clinching strip sack?
  • What happened on that last kickoff when the Patriots tried to do a lateral play?

The ultimate question really boils down to this: What happened?

This game had a weird feel to it from the beginning and things didn’t really go the Patriots way all game.

Things started to feel weird when we noticed Malcolm Butler crying on the sidelines during the pregame ceremonies. I don’t think many people thought much of it, but things did not seem great right out of the gate.

Things got worse when the Patriots gave up 22 points in the first half, including a 1-yard TD catch from Nick Foles near the end of the second quarter. The Patriots were absolutely putrid in pass-coverage, run stuffing, tackling, etc. The Patriots looked sluggish in all three phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams), which is un-Patriot-like to the fullest seeing as they preach this all the time.

Tom Brady is unable to corral a high throw from Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola on 3rd and 5 in the second quarter

(Source: The Boston Globe)

There was a point in the game that started to feel more Patriot-like after the Patriots outscored the Eagles 14-7 in the third quarter and only trailed 29-26 heading into the fourth quarter. It was even better after the Pats held the Eagles’ offense to a field goal and then marched down the field to take a 33-32 lead.

After the touchdown, most Patriots fans were thinking that if the defense could finally step up and make a stop, the game would be over. After many failed attempts to get the Eagles off the field all game, one would think that everything would even itself off.

Not quite…

The Eagles methodically moved the ball down the field – converting a crucial fourth down in the process. This set up a somewhat controversial Zach Ertz’ touchdown (which was a touchdown by the way) that gave the Eagles the lead with a little over two minutes in the game.

2:21 remaining. Fourth quarter. Down 5. Two timeouts. Tom Brady at quarterback.

Game. Set. Match.

Then that weird feeling we felt at the beginning of the game starts to creep up again and things feel eerie. Not to worry, though, Tom Brady will stay cool and collected as he always does and earn his 54th game-winning drive and 12th in the playoffs.

Turns out, it wasn’t meant to be this year.

But, it should have turned out how many people expected it to go: with a Patriots victory.

In the Patriots’ prior Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons, they needed to make a key play on defense and have everything go right for them to win the game.

In this Super Bowl, they didn’t need everything to go right for them, they just needed to make one more play.

Almost everything was against them in this game:

  • A Patriots defense giving up over 500 yards of total offense
  • The Eagles offense converting 12-18 third and fourth downs
  • Time of possession favoring the Eagles 34:04-25:56
  • Malcolm Butler not seeing a single defensive snap, despite the secondary getting torched on every drive
  • The defense not sacking Nick Foles once
  • The Patriots not holding a lead until less than 10 minutes in the game
  • One semi-controversial and one incorrectly called touchdown pass going in the Eagles favor (Corey Clement did not get both feet in-bounds by the time he secured the ball)
  • A couple of missed penalties including a missed illegal shift/formation penalty that would have negated the Eagles 4th and goal “Philly Special” play

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles catches a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton near the end of the second half

(Source: Washington Post)

Despite all of this, the Patriots stayed with the Eagles all game. As bad as the Pats’ defense was, their offense was on another level and did almost everything necessary to win, despite a few miscues (missed field goal & extra point, Tom Brady’s dropped pass, Brandin Cooks trying to hurdle a defender in the red zone and then getting concussed later in the game).

These statistics might surprise you based on the score, but the Patriots actually were on par with or even outperformed the Eagles in a lot of team statistical categories:

  • Total Plays: 72 Pats – 71 Eagles
  • First Downs: 29 Pats – 25 Eagles
  • Yards: 613 Pats – 538 Eagles
  • Yards Per Play: 8.5 Pats – 7.6 Eagles
  • Passing Yards: 505 Pats – 374 Eagles
  • Rushing Yards: 164 Eagles – 113 Pats
  • Turnovers: 1 Pats – 1 Eagles

Of course, as we know, stats are for losers and the only metric that matters is the final score.

2:21 remaining. Fourth quarter. Down 5. Two timeouts. Tom Brady at quarterback.

Brady completes an 8-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski. 2nd and 2 with 2:16 left.

And then the strip sack…

The Eagles had minimal pressue on Brady all game until he was strip-sacked with a little over two minutes left. This essentially sealed the game for the Eagles

(Source: Daily Express)

If you gave the Patriots ten tries to complete the comeback, they would probably score on nine of them. Obviously, it is quite unfortunate that things didn’t work out for the Patriots as we thought it would, but one can’t help but think the Patriots did not leave it all on the field given their coaching and personnel decisions.

If both the Eagles and the Patriots executed to perfection, the Patriots should have won this game. They have the better quarterback and coach and that almost outweighed the team’s glaring holes elsewhere, but Nick Foles and Eagles’ head coach Dough Pederson outshined them in this matchup.

Look, as I write this, I realize there are a ton of what-if scenarios that could have changed the outcome of the game. Me sitting here and writing this is not going to change the outcome of the game. In fact, I will give the Eagles all the credit in the world for their win. They took the reigning Super Bowl champs to the limit and made one more play that determined the outcome of the game.

All I’m saying, though, is that the Patriots let this one slip through their fingers. The Eagles won it, but the Patriots let it happen.

On to 2018.

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