A year after overcoming a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were in position for another memorable comeback against the upstart Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday.
But instead of raising their sixth Lombardi Trophy, the Patriots were done in by a late touchdown from Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and a costly fumble by Brady that helped Philadelphia win its first Super Bowl in franchise history.
‘They’re all pretty disappointing,’ a despondent Brady said afterwards. ‘I mean losing sucks, but that’s part of it. You show up and you try and win and sometimes you lose and that’s the way it goes.
‘Losing sucks,’ he said, later adding, ‘Yup it sucks.’
For the Eagles, who previously lost title games in 1981 and 2005, the win capped a remarkable late-season charge that most observers considered unthinkable when starting quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending injury in December.
Wentz’s replacement, game MVP Nick Foles threw the go-ahead five-yard touchdown pass to Ertz with 2:21 remaining to put the Eagles in position for the win.
The victory sparked wild celebrations in Philadelphia with thousands taking to the streets. There was mayhem as passionate supporters lit fires and clambered up traffic poles, on to trucks and onto a hotel awning which later collapsed.
‘We have been wanting this for a long time, and I am just blessed to be a part of it,’ Foles said afterwards. ‘We have such a great group of guys, such a great city to play for and I am proud to be a Philadelphia Eagle.’
The most prolific playoff game in terms of combined yardage in NFL history was then decided on a defensive play when Brandon Graham stripped Brady and rookie Derek Barnett recovered with 2:09 to play to set up a field goal by Jake Elliott and prevent another late Super Bowl comeback by the Patriots.
‘We’ve been doubted since Day One,’ Ertz told reporters. ‘We owe it to God first and foremost. This team, no one picked us. We come out here and we’re World Champions. First time in Philadelphia history. The city earned this win. We wouldn’t be here without our fans in Philly. Man, what an experience.’
Among those celebrating the victory was London-born running back Jay Ajayi who was was draped in a Union Flag as he described winning Super Bowl LII as the ‘greatest feeling in the world’.
The 24-year-old, who played his part in Philly’s maiden Super Bowl victory with 57 rushing yards, lived in England until moving to America at the age of seven. He had embraced London grime artist Stormzy pitchside before the game and said afterwards he wanted the victory, and his story, to motivate others in the country of his birth as he became the fifth Briton to win a Super Bowl.
‘Hopefully it will inspire some people, just from the journey, from the challenges that I’ve been through, the adversity,’ said Ajayi, who was surprisingly traded by the Miami Dolphins in October.
‘To still be at this point, to still be able to touch and kiss that Lombardi Trophy and understand I’m a Super Bowl champion, (it’s the) greatest feeling in the world, I’m so blessed. I pray that someone is inspired by it.
‘Hopefully, once all this stuff subsides, I will definitely love to get back out there (to London), see my family and I know they are going to be super excited to talk about this whole season and the journey.
‘It will be amazing to get back to London and just feel the love and support from them.’
The Eagles had blown a 12-point lead in the high-scoring matchup before rallying behind their backup quarterback who will go down in Philadelphia lore after throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns and catching another on a fourth-down trick play to give the Eagles their first championship since 1960.
Instead of becoming the first NFL player to win six Super Bowl rings, Brady became the third quarterback in NFL history to lose three Super Bowls, joining John Elway and Jim Kelly.
The Patriots trailed the underdog Eagles throughout the first three quarters of play until Brady opened the fourth frame with a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive that ended with tight end Rob Gronkowski’s second touchdown reception of the game to give New England it’s first lead, 33-32.
The Patriots had entered the half trailing by 10 points, but Brady wasted little time chipping away at that deficit on the opening drive of the second half by putting together an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
Brady, who amassed over 400 passing yards in the first three quarters, also tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to wideout Chris Hogan in the third.
Not to be outdone, Foles threw his second touchdown pass of the game in the third, capping a 10-play, 63-yard drive with a 22-yard score to Corey Clement. The play was upheld after a review.
The first half may forever be remembered for Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s gutsy decision to go for it on fourth down from the Patriots’ goal line in near the end of the second quarter.
Foles became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to catch a touchdown on the trick play when tight end Trey Burton threw a one-yard pass to him with 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Foles lined up in a shotgun formation before shifting out behind the right side of the offensive line. Clement took the snap and got the ball to Burton, who threw to a wide-open Foles.
‘We had just gone all the way down the field, and I wasn’t going to stop,’ Eagles coach Doug Pederson told NBC at halftime. ‘I wasn’t going to let us be stopped at the one-yard line.
‘It’s a play we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks, and our guys executed brilliantly.’
The Foles score came after Tom Brady dropped an over-the-shoulder catch on a trick play for New England on an earlier drive that ended in a failed fourth-down play.
Earlier, former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount bumped the Eagles’ lead up to 12 with a 21-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but Philadelphia wide receiver Alshon Jeffery failed to catch the ensuing two-point conversion at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Despite that, Jeffery had an undeniably impressive performance.
After failing to catch a would-be touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game, Jeffery hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Foles on the second drive.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Elliott missed the extra point – a mistake later replicated by New England placekicker Stephen Gostkowski and something that may have factored into Pederson’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal in the second frame.
The Patriots had a chance to take the lead after Brady marched the offense deep into Eagles territory on an ensuing eight-play 74-yard drive in the first quarter.
However, after New England came up short on third down from the Philadelphia eight-yard line, Gostkowski missed a 26-yard field goal off the upright when the snap was mishandled.
The Patriots pulled to within three late in the second quarter on a 26-yard touchdown run by James White before Gostkowski missed the aforementioned extra point.
Much like last year, when Brady and the Patriots engineered a memorable 25-point comeback win over Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, New England gave up the first points of the game on Sunday.
On the game’s opening drive, Foles marched his offense 72 yards downfield where Philadelphia ultimately settled for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
The Eagles could have put up a touchdown if Jeffery hauled in a pass from Foles in the corner of the end zone. Jeffery, however, was double teamed and never really had much of a chance.
Brady and the Patriots responded with their own 62-yard drive that also ended with a field goal.
Things took a downturn for New England in the second quarter.
After nearly throwing an interception, Brady failed to catch the aforementioned pass from wide receiver Danny Amendola on a trick play. The future Hall of Fame quarterback was wide open after pitching to Amendola, but the ball hit off his fingertips before falling to the turf.
‘Danny made a good throw,’ Brady told reporters. ‘I just didn’t make the play. It was there to be made and I missed the play.’
The Patriots would turn the ball over on downs.
Exacerbating matters for New England, wide receiver Brandin Cooks was lost for the game when he suffered a head injury in the second quarter. The good news is that Cooks was able to walk off the field under his own power.
Cooks was wide open early in the second quarter underneath the Philadelphia zone, when he caught Brady’s pass, pivoted and danced back and forth to try to extend the play. He didn’t see Eagles safety Michael Jenkins coming, though, and was knocked to the turf with a legal-but-jarring hit by Jenkins.
Cooks was barely moving for several seconds, before sitting up and slowly walking off the field. The Patriots soon announced he was out for the remainder of the game with a head injury.
Injuries may also play a factor in the Patriots’ future as Gronkowski was non-committal about playing next season
‘I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure,’ Gronkowski said after catching nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. ‘We’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.
‘I’m not ready for these types of questions right now. I’m just going to sit down, reflect on the season, talk to my teammates.’
Gronkowski, 28, returned to action Sunday after getting knocked out of the AFC Championship Game on January 21 due to a concussion. With his two touchdown catches of throws from Tom Brady, the duo tied Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most TD connections in NFL history with 12.
In the 2017 regular season, Gronkowski caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns, his fourth career season with at least 1,000 yards. He sat out two games, one due to a thigh contusion and the other because of an NFL suspension for a late hit on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
A second-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Arizona, Gronkowski has 474 career catches for 7,179 yards and 76 touchdowns in 102 games. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time Pro Bowl honoree and a four-time All-Pro.
Gronkowski missed much of the 2013 season after multiple forearm surgeries, then returned to win Comeback Player of the Year in 2014.
He also played in just eight games in 2016, missing time due to a hamstring injury, a pulmonary contusion and a herniated disk that ultimately led to back surgery.
Meanwhile Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler may not necessarily be done with football, but his time may be up in New England.
Three years after he sealed a Super Bowl win for the New England Patriots with a last-minute interception, the cornerback did not play on defense Sunday in Super Bowl LII due to a ‘coach’s decision.’
The move did not sit well with Butler.
‘They gave up on me. (expletive). It is what it is,’ Butler reportedly told ESPN’s Mike Reiss after New England’s 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis.
The Eagles shredded the Patriots for 538 total yards, 374 of it through the air, prompting Butler to add, ‘I could have changed that game.’
According to ESPN, Butler played 97.8 percent of the Patriots’ regular-season snaps on defense. Butler, who was not at Monday’s media night and was limited Wednesday while reportedly dealing with flu-like symptoms, did see snaps Sunday on special teams.
New England coach Bill Belichick told NBC at halftime only that he ‘made the decision that gives us the best chance to win.’
The Patriots opened the game with Eric Rowe in primary coverage on Jeffery, who caught the game’s first touchdown. New England made the switch to have Stephon Gilmore shadow Jeffery, his college teammate at South Carolina. Jeffery wound up with three catches for 73 yards.
In Super Bowl XLIX, Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line with 26 seconds left to clinch New England’s 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. At the time, Butler was a little-known undrafted rookie. He subsequently became a mainstay for the Patriots and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2015 season.
Butler was the subject of trade rumors last offseason, and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
Afterwards, the Eagles players tried to put their emotions into words.
‘Such an amazing feeling,’ said Blount. ‘This is a resilient group of guys. It’s not about the other team on the other side, it’s about this team and this resilient group of guys.
‘We’ve done everything the coaches have told us to do all season,’ he continued. ‘Everything we dug deep. We knew this was going to be a grind. We knew that this wasn’t going to be easy. We knew this was a team we had to do everything perfect for. We did everything we that we had to do to get the W. I love these guys more than they know. I appreciate every single thing they’ve done for me.’
Despite suffering an injury to his throwing hand that required 12 stitches before the AFC Championship game, Brady did not wear a glove or even a bandage over the wound. He had worn a bandage in the team’s comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to qualify for the Super Bowl.
The four-time Super Bowl MVP won his third Associated Press NFL MVP award on Saturday, becoming the oldest player in league history to win the honor, at 40.
Instead of Brady winning another Super Bowl MVP, though, it was Foles who was Sunday’s hero.
Cast aside once in Philadelphia, the Arizona product delivered the city its first Super Bowl title, and he outdueled Brady to do it.
Foles, who took over when Carson Wentz injured his right knee in mid-December, matched the five-time champion and three-time MVP big play for big play Sunday.
Brady threw for more yards – a playoff career-high 505 to Foles’ 373 – but Foles matched Brady’s three touchdown tosses and even caught another.
He hauled in tight end Trey Burton’s toss from the one-yard line that gave Philadelphia a 22-12 halftime edge and made him the first player in Super Bowl history to be on both ends of a touchdown pass in the same game.
Brady nearly beat him to it.
But the ambling Brady, although wide open, couldn’t quite haul in Amendola’s high pass for what would have been a nifty over-the-shoulder reception which might have gone all 35 yards for the score.
That brought to mind Gisele Bundchen’s famous dig after one of Brady’s two losses to Eli Manning and the Giants in the Super Bowl when his supermodel wife responded to hecklers by complaining about the Patriots’ many dropped passes that day.
‘You’ve got to catch the ball when you’re supposed to catch the ball,’ she fumed. ‘My husband cannot … throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.’
Nor could he haul in Amendola’s throw early in the second quarter with New England trailing 9-3.
Foles’ only interception was a fluke, but it did help Brady and the Patriots staunch an early stumble to stay in it until the very end when Brady’s desperation pass into the end zone on the final play failed to find its big target, Rob Gronkowski.
Foles was 28 of 43 and wasn’t sacked at all. Brady was 28 of 48, and while he didn’t throw any interceptions, his only sack was a doozy.
Brady, who threw TD passes on the first three of New England’s second-half drives, dropped back on second-and-two at his 33 when Graham swept in and jarred the ball loose. Barnett smothered it at the 31 with just over two minutes remaining.
Elliott’s 46-yard field goal, the longest in a Super Bowl by a rookie, made it an eight-point cushion and gave Brady just a minute to work his magic.
Brady started at his own nine-yard line with 58 seconds remaining and drove the Patriots to midfield before Foles and the Eagles could exhale.
A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles had tremendous success as a starter under Chip Kelly his sophomore season. He threw 29 TDs and only two picks in 11 starts, including playoffs in 2013.
Foles posted a passer rating of 119.2, third-highest in league history. He also tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and won an offensive MVP award at a Pro Bowl.
But Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford in March 2015. He lost his starting job to Case Keenum and asked for his release after Jared Goff was drafted No. 1 overall. Foles even considered hanging up his cleats before Reid persuaded him to go to Kansas City to be Alex Smith’s backup.
After one season with the Chiefs, Foles returned to Philly for $12 million over two years to provide insurance behind Wentz.
Now he’s a folk hero for a franchise that had gone 0-for-2 in Super Bowls and for a legion of fans who were rooting for anybody other than Brady and the Patriots, who were seeking their third title in four years.