Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl LII
by Scott Kacsmar
The Super Bowl is annually the most-watched sporting event in America, so a lot of casual viewers were taking in their only real NFL action of the season with this game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. What unfolded looked more like a college game with the offenses marching up and down the field in a 41-33 shootout. If you didn't know any better, then you might think defense had disappeared from the NFL.
Super Bowl LII was truly an offensive spectacle that instantly made its way into the record book. The 1,151 yards of total offense are the most in any game in the NFL's 98-year history, besting the previous record of 1,133 yards between the Los Angeles Rams and New York Yanks in 1950. Simply put, we have never seen two offenses chew up yardage the way these two did, and the fact that it was on the game's biggest stage just makes the whole evening that much wilder.
We previewed the game in great detail, but I don't think anyone was expecting more than 1,100 yards of offense. Then again, the last NFL game where both teams gained at least 530 yards also involved Nick Foles, when he threw seven touchdowns against the Raiders in 2013. We once called Russell Wilson "The Asterisk" in the 2012 draft class, but that nickname may better serve Foles, now one of the most unlikely Super Bowl MVP winners. Going into the game, I felt that head coach Doug Pederson and Foles had a chance to upstage Bill Belichick and Tom Brady with an aggressive game plan. The Eagles had a very productive scoring offense this year, but obviously much of that was with Carson Wentz at quarterback. The Oakland game on Christmas scared off so many people from Foles and the Eagles, but it appears that and the shaky first half of the playoffs against Atlanta were just rough patches. Foles was phenomenal against Minnesota's tough defense in the NFC Championship Game and he backed it up with another stellar game against the Patriots in a shootout win.
Should we have expected this outcome? With Foles on the mark, the Eagles were playing a New England defense that ranked 31st in DVOA, which I said could ultimately be its undoing in this game. As we have shown before, no team has won a Super Bowl since 1986 (probably never before that too) with a defense ranked lower than 25th in DVOA. The 2017 Patriots and Chiefs give us a list of 24 playoff teams since 1986 with a defense ranked lower than 25th in DVOA. Only four of these teams reached a conference championship game, and the Patriots have two of the three Super Bowl losses. New England of course denied the 2016 Falcons (26th-ranked defense) a win in the Super Bowl last year, so all three of the Super Bowl-losing defenses failed to get the final stop and allowed a late game-winning touchdown drive.
|Playoff Teams: Defense Ranked 26th or Lower (Since 1986)|
|Year||Team||OFF DVOA Rk||DEF DVOA Rk||Result|
|Year||Team||OFF DVOA Rk||DEF DVOA Rk||Result|
For as much as the Patriots improved defensively since the first month of the season, that month still happened. The Eagles, with two weeks to prepare, brought a great challenge that surely is different from playing against the Bills or the Bryce Petty-led Jets or Jacksonville's limited passing game. Foles and Pederson exposed New England's poor defense for four quarters in one of the finest offensive performances anyone has ever had against a Belichick-coached defense.
Game of the Week
Philadelphia Eagles 41 vs. New England Patriots 33
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (33-32)
Game Winning Chance Before: 49.2 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 83.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 69.7 percent
Head Coach: Doug Pederson (4-7 at 4QC and 5-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Nick Foles (7-11 at 4QC and 9-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Right from the start this one had an offensive feel, with the Eagles converting a few third downs on a nice opening drive that ultimately ended with a field goal after a bad false start penalty in the red zone. The Eagles favored picking on cornerback Eric Rowe, who saw his share of action on a night where past Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler did not play a snap on defense. Butler was a starter all season and was deemed healthy enough to play a little on special teams, but not on defense against a team that features three solid wideouts and tight end Zach Ertz. Belichick told NBC at halftime that "I made the decisions that give us the best chance to win," but who could possibly buy that as being the case here? Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia cited "packages" for not getting Butler involved. Butler's post-game response was "They gave up on me," followed by an f-bomb and the classic "It is what it is" line. Hopefully more headlines will come out about this one, but Butler's apparent benching in the biggest game of the year for Rowe and Johnson Bademosi is one of the oddest Super Bowl stories you'll find.
The thought that Butler could not help the Patriots here is too tough of a sell, but there are some throws that are hard to defend for anyone. Foles hit one of those to Alshon Jeffery for a 34-yard touchdown with Rowe in solid coverage with 2:34 left in the first quarter.
Nick Foles to Alshon Jeffery TOUCHDOWN pic.twitter.com/GpX26CxWAV
— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) February 5, 2018
One position group that also needed help was kicker (for both teams). This would have been the highest-scoring Super Bowl ever with better kicking, but the 1994 49ers and Chargers still hold that record with 75 points. Philadelphia's rookie Jake Elliott missed an extra point to keep the game at 9-3, and you just knew that would matter later, but we have a lot to cover before that point. The Eagles tried to make up for it early with a two-point conversion in the second quarter, but Foles' pass failed. New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski also missed an extra point, but more importantly he missed a 26-yard field goal. It wasn't entirely his fault after a botched snap threw off his timing. Still, he clanked the kick off the upright one play after Brandin Cooks nearly took a powerbomb from Rodney McLeod.
Hell of an open field tackle by Rodney McLeod pic.twitter.com/MzzFXL5Bz7
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 5, 2018
Cooks had an unfortunate night. The Patriots went back to him on their next play from scrimmage, and it was a pass to the deep left where we pointed out where Brady looked for him often this season. He caught the pass and tried to make a move after the catch, but caught a helmet-to-helmet hit that ended his night. Three plays later, the Patriots went to some odd trickery with Danny Amendola throwing a pass to Brady, who was wide open, but reminded us that he's slow and not a receiver. His hand injury also couldn't have helped him haul in the pass, but that was a big drop. The Patriots bypassed the 53-yard field goal to go for a fourth-and-5, but Brady was unable to hit Rob Gronkowski with a deep ball.
The Patriots were making plenty of mistakes and the Eagles sought to take advantage with a 21-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, who ran hard all night (90 yards on 14 carries) against his former team. The Eagles led 15-3, but a quick 46-yard gain on a screen pass to Rex Burkhead put another field goal on the board for the Patriots.
After Jay Ajayi broke off a 26-yard run, the Eagles tried another shot play as they did earlier on the touchdown to Jeffery, which also followed a big run. This time, Jeffery could not come down with the pass and tipped it to Duron Harmon for a big interception.
That interception… pic.twitter.com/vqRFqKmlke
— Steve Noah (@Steve_OS) February 5, 2018
The Patriots only had one takeaway in their previous six games, and this would be the only one they would get on the night, but it was important. Cornerback Jalen Mills had a brutal series for the Eagles. He was flagged for holding on a third down, and then he was beat by Chris Hogan on a 43-yard bomb. James White finished the drive with a 26-yard touchdown and the Patriots were right back in it at 15-12 after Gostkowski missed the extra point.
With 1:59 left, the Eagles needed to come through with something since the Patriots were getting the ball to start the second half. Torrey Smith did not have a great night for the Eagles, and he was ruled to have dropped a pass near the sideline. It really looked like a catch and fumble out of bounds, but you know how the catch rules are these days (more on that later). It worked out though, since on the next play Foles floated a wheel route to Corey Clement for a 55-yard gain. The Eagles eventually faced a fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line with 38 seconds left. How often do we see coaches just kick the 19-yard field goal in that situation? Pederson showed everyone that he understood that field goals don't beat the Patriots and had his offense go for it. The result was an incredible play that saw tight end Trey Burton take a pitch and throw to Foles for a touchdown.
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) February 5, 2018
It was basically the same play as what the Patriots tried earlier in the quarter, but this time the quarterback caught the ball, which is something we never even think about in the NFL. The play was the only drop of the night for New England.
Foles could. pic.twitter.com/Pd9ySVlNr9
— ESPN (@espn) February 5, 2018
That really summed up the wild first half, the first NFL game to ever have a 22-12 score at halftime. The Patriots had a shot for more points, but Brady tried a scramble that took too long and threw a short pass instead of a Hail Mary to end the half. Both teams had more than 320 yards of offense at halftime, which hasn't happened since at least 2001 in the NFL according to the ESPN Stats & Info database.
You knew the Patriots would make their halftime adjustments. One of them was getting Gronkowski more involved. He only caught 1-of-5 passes for 9 yards in the first half, when the Eagles did a great job of being physical with him at the catch point. But the greatness of Gronkowski is his ability to take over a game, which he did immediately to start the third quarter. Brady went to him five times on the drive, completing four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. It never makes any sense why a defense would not just double-team Gronkowski in the red zone. Make the lesser players beat you, but the Eagles did not do that here and did not learn from this mistake either.
— sovereign (@sovereign_70) February 5, 2018
Jim Schwartz had a rough night as defensive coordinator, but he sure is glad that his offense scored on all four second-half possessions. Foles continued to be stellar on third down, where the Eagles converted 10-of-16 opportunities on the night. One of his best throws was a 22-yard touchdown pass to Clement on a third-and-6. It reminded me a bit of the way Alex Smith threw deep down the seam on opening night in New England to Kareem Hunt. It sure seemed like Pederson studied that Week 1 game from his mentor well in coming up with this plan for the Patriots.
Here's the Corey Clement touchdown reception pic.twitter.com/2dqhkfJAeb
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) February 5, 2018
I thought NBC's Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth overreacted a bit to Clement's alleged loss of "control" on the play. On the other hand, I do think if the play was ruled incomplete on the field, then it would have stood, but since it was ruled a touchdown, there wasn't anything conclusive to overturn the call. Clement got two feet down with the ball, and only then did we start to see him adjusting the ball in his hand, which is a pretty frequent act. A little movement of the ball is fine as long as he isn't letting it hit the ground, which he did not let happen. I have to wonder if any consideration was given by head of officiating Al Riveron to the previous calls that have overturned multiple touchdowns against the Patriots this season. Taking another one off the board for the Patriots in a game with such a large audience would surely blow back badly on the league in the court of public opinion.
Down 29-19, Brady brought the Patriots back quickly again, finding Hogan for a 26-yard touchdown after the Eagles struggled to get set. We talked about Philadelphia's struggles with the no-huddle offense (21st in DVOA compared to third on all other plays), and the tempo was a problem at times in this one.
Brady had an intriguing night to say the least. It was so out of the norm from his last seven Super Bowls where he only had two completions of 30-plus yards (both against the 2003 Panthers). On Sunday night he had four completions of 30-plus yards. He also had 10 completions of at least 23 yards, which is the number he had in his first seven Super Bowls combined. Eight of those plays came by the early third quarter, so it was a night of chunk plays for the Patriots. According to ESPN's Stats & Info, Brady is the only player since 2001 to have 10 completions of 23-plus yards in a game.
The Eagles took a 29-26 lead into the fourth quarter, but immediately faced a big third-and-3 at the New England 16. Foles tried a horizontal pass to Nelson Agholor with a trio of Patriots waiting to bury him for an 8-yard loss. That was really the first big miscue for Pederson on the night, but Elliott came through with a 42-yard field goal to take a 32-26 lead. Amendola came back with another 30-yard gain for Brady, but appeared to dodge a fumble at the end of the play that NBC never showed a replay for. It did, however, look like McLeod was out of bounds when he stripped Amendola, who looked to have his forward progress stopped anyway. But that could have been worth a second look for sure by Pederson. Four plays later, the Eagles repeated their earlier mistake by leaving Gronkowski in single coverage, and the result was a 4-yard touchdown with 9:22 left. Ronald Darby deserves some help there.
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) February 5, 2018
New England had its first lead at 33-32, and maybe this would be the spot where the defense would rise up again. James Harrison was getting closer with his pass rush, but the game did not have a sack up to this point. The Patriots burned their first timeout on defense before a third-and-6, which is less than ideal on a subpar night for the coaching staff all around. Later, on a third-and-1, the Eagles again went horizontal after playing aggressively all night, and the result was a fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 45 with 5:39 left.
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Pederson had a decision to make, but I don't think it was a difficult one at all. You might get away with a punt here against Cleveland in Week 6, but on a night where the Patriots never punted, this had to be an obvious call to go for it. According to EdjFootball, Philadelphia's Game Winning Chance was 46.6 percent in going for it compared to 34.6 percent with a punt. Of course, it's fitting that Pederson was faced with a crucial fourth-and-1 since we just highlighted in Aggressiveness Index that he had the most fourth-and-1 opportunities this season. This was an easy call, but not an easy conversion. Foles kept his composure under pressure and found Ertz for a 2-yard gain to continue the drive. Just think, if the Eagles had not missed that extra point and we had a tied game, then Pederson undoubtedly would have punted from his 45 here. So the deficit actually helped make him aggressive to get the win here.
Agholor moved the ball into field goal range, but the Eagles really needed to get a touchdown and two-point conversion. Milking the clock for a last-second field goal was unlikely with the Patriots having three clock stoppages, though not impossible. However, Agholor made a mistake by going out of bounds with 2:37 left after just picking up another first down. Soon, the Eagles faced a third-and-7 and the impending doom of giving Brady the ball back in a 35-33 game with over two minutes left. Now we had a "play of the game" moment and Foles delivered again with a pass to Ertz for an 11-yard touchdown. Or was it another dreaded "survive the ground" play with a tight end against the Patriots? On first glance, I thought we had a play like the Devonta Freeman touchdown that was overturned against Washington in 2015. Upon further review, this play was a little different. Ertz established himself as a runner and took three steps with the ball before lunging over Devin McCourty, who just played abysmal coverage on this one. This was not the Calvin Johnson Rule, so the touchdown was confirmed.
EAGLES WIN THE SUPER BOWL IN AN EPIC GAME!!!!
ZACH ERTZ'S DECISIVE TOUCHDOWN IS EVEN BETTER WITH TITANIC MUSIC!!!
— TITANIC TD (@TitanicTD) February 5, 2018
The two-point conversion would have been huge, but Foles was not able to convert, keeping hope alive for the Patriots in a 38-33 game with 2:21 left. Just two plays into the drive, defense returned. Brandon Graham rushed from Brady's right and knocked the ball loose, and it was recovered by rookie Derek Barnett. The game finally had a sack, and it was the biggest play of the game. According to EdjFootball, the Eagles' Game Winning Chance improved by 19.7 percentage points following the strip-sack. The next-biggest play in the game was the go-ahead Ertz touchdown (18.8 percent).
The Eagles were able to up the pressure on Brady in the fourth quarter, pressuring him on 43.8 percent of his dropbacks according to ESPN. The Eagles join the 2015 Broncos as the only defenses to up their pressure rate and prevent another Brady comeback in the last four postseasons.
|Pressure Rate on Tom Brady in Playoff Comeback Attempts Since 2014|
|Year||Game||Opp||Score Thru 3Q||Q 1-3 PRESS%||4Q/OT PRESS%||DIFF||Final|
|2014||AFC-DIV||BAL||Tied 28-28||25.0%||22.2%||-2.8%||W 35-31|
|2014||SB||SEA||Trailed 24-14||20.0%||12.5%||-7.5%||W 28-24|
|2015||AFC-CG||at DEN||Trailed 17-12||25.0%||40.0%||+15.0%||L 20-18|
|2016||SB||ATL||Trailed 28-9||44.7%||20.0%||-24.7%||W 34-28 OT|
|2017||AFC-CG||JAC||Trailed 17-10||22.2%||13.3%||-8.9%||W 24-20|
|2017||SB||PHI||Trailed 29-26||34.8%||43.8%||+9.0%||L 41-33|
|Source: ESPN Stats & Info|
The Patriots called their final timeout with 2:03 left after a run by Blount on first down brought up second-and-8. This would have been an ideal time to be aggressive and throw the ball since the clock was going to stop anyway for the two-minute warning. You can basically give yourself two chances to throw for the game-clinching first down here, but I can understand why Pederson would play it a bit safe here. Still, the Blount run getting stuffed on third-and-5 was a bit disappointing, and Elliott had to come through with a 46-yard field goal to make it 41-33.
Brady was going to get one more chance, but only after Dion Lewis got frisky with a lateral on the kickoff that ultimately lost a yard. That was pretty foolish, but it was a good kickoff by the Eagles, putting the ball in play and burning some time. Brady had 58 seconds to drive 91 yards for a touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion just to force overtime. There has only been one other game in NFL history with a game-tying one-minute drill for a team down by 8 points, and we covered that in 2014 when Peyton Manning led the Broncos back in Seattle. (The Seahawks still won the game after never giving up the ball in overtime). This had a difficulty level of 10 to it, but you had to still give the Patriots a chance.
It actually played out much like Super Bowl XLVI did against the Giants. Brady had to convert a fourth-and-long just to keep the game going, and he ultimately set things up for a Hail Mary on the final play. Gronkowski officially got the target, and the ball bounced around in the air for a little, but no one caught the pass.
— PHSports LiveScores (@LiveScoresPH) February 5, 2018
The Eagles completed their magical run with a third-straight win as an underdog. Foles was selected game MVP with 373 passing yards, three touchdowns, one touchdown catch, and one interception. In 2015, Philadelphia beat the Patriots to end one incredible streak. It was the first time since 2001 the Patriots lost a home game after leading by at least eight points. The record was 94-0 prior to that 35-28 win by the Eagles. This time, the Eagles ended New England's 15-0 streak against new opponents in the playoffs since 2001.
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Brady's completions at the end pushed him up to 505 yards, the first 500-yard passing game in playoff history. This is the sixth lost comeback of his career, and the second in a Super Bowl. Brady was trying to become the first player to lead the league in passing yards and win the Super Bowl in the same season, but that streak continues. He's also the latest regular-season MVP to fail to win the Super Bowl, which no one has pulled off since Kurt Warner in 1999 with the Rams. The Patriots have only blown 18 fourth-quarter leads in the last 17 seasons, but they started and ended 2017 by blowing a lead and allowing over 530 yards and 40 points to the Chiefs and Eagles. Philadelphia scored on eight of its 10 drives in the game.
The last time a team repeated as Super Bowl champions was the 2004 season, when the Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, but Philadelphia was not about to allow that to happen again. This continues the longest streak in NFL history without a repeat champion (13 seasons). Brady will be 41 next season, Belichick isn't getting any younger, the coordinators may be moving on, and Jimmy Garoppolo throws passes for San Francisco now. One has to wonder if this was a last hurrah in the Super Bowl for this New England team. No matter what you think of the Patriots, there is no denying that they play the most entertaining Super Bowls. They are always close and go down to the wire. This game was an instant classic, and it gives a long-time NFL franchise its first Super Bowl championship.
Congratulations Philadelphia, you're the last card in the NFL's first deck of Super Bowls. A win like this was worth the wait.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 54
Game-winning drives: 82 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 147/267 (55.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 27
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjFootball.