By Bob Brookover | The Philadelphia Inquirer
MINNEAPOLIS — It was quintessential Tom Brady and classic Patriots, but this time there was no celebration at the end, which must have been mind-boggling for New Englanders.
Their quarterback, arguably the greatest in NFL history, threw for a Super Bowl record 505 yards and led comeback after comeback against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
And yet when it was over and Brady’s 48th pass had fallen incomplete in the end zone, it was the Eagles who had their first Super Bowl title with a 41-33 victory.
The Eagles only sacked Brady once the entire evening, but the timing of Brandon Graham’s strip sack was impeccable. The ball serendipitously bounced into Derek Barnett’s hands and set up a Jake Elliott field goal that gave the Eagles an eight-point lead with 65 seconds remaining.
The Patriots, who fell to 5-5 in Super Bowl games, started their final drive of the night on their own 9-yard line with no timeouts remaining and not even Brady could muster a miracle out of those circumstances.
Brady threw three touchdowns with no interceptions and the Eagles, for most of the night, had no answer for him or his favorite targets — Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski. He had lost his best receiver — Brandin Cooks — to a concussion in the first quarter, but it did not stop Brady from coming up with huge plays the entire evening.
The Patriots trailed by double digits three different times — 15-3, 22-12, and 29-19 — but with 9 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game they were back in front by a point after a touchdown throw to Gronkowski and an extra point from kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
As well as the Eagles played while building a 22-12 first-half lead, Brady still offered glimpses of brilliance and constant reminders that you can never be comfortable when playing against the Patriots. The 40-year-old quarterback completed 12 of 23 passes for 276 yards in the first half.
As a team, the Patriots had 350 first-half yards, which was more than the Eagles had allowed in 15 of their first 18 games this season. New England finished with 613 yards.
But Nick Foles matched Brady’s brilliance like no other quarterback the Pats QB had faced in five previous Super Bowls. The Eagles’ quarterback finished with 373 passing yards and three touchdowns and also caught a pass for a touchdown.
It was a crazy night from start to finish.
When Foles led the Eagles down the field for a field goal on the game’s opening drive, Brady countered by immediately doing the same for New England, completing a 28-yard pass to Kevin Hogan to quickly put the Pats deep into Eagles territory.
When the Eagles went up 15-3 midway through the second quarter, Brady and the Pats countered with the game’s next nine points. A 46-yard screen pass to Rex Burkhead set up a Gostkowski field goal with 7:24 left in first half and after a quirky interception by Pats safety Duron Harmon snuffed an Eagles scoring opportunity, Brady needed just seven plays to take the Patriots 90 yards on a drive that included a 43-yard completion to Chris Hogan and a 26-yard touchdown run by James White.
But for all that offense, the Patriots also had their share of blunders that prevented them from scoring even more.
A bad snap resulted in a missed chip-shot field goal by Gostkowski early in the second quarter and, like the Eagles’ Jake Elliott, the Patriots placekicker missed an extra point.
The Patriots’ biggest first-half gaffe, however, came from Brady, but not in the quarterback role.
Faced with a third-and-5 from the Eagles’ 35-yard line, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ordered a bit of trickery. A reverse to Danny Amendola ended up actually being a pass in the right flat to Brady. The quarterback was wide open, but could not pull the ball in. The Patriots went for it on fourth down, but the throw to Rob Gronkowski was incomplete.
The Eagles had more success with their own trick play late in the first half when a direct snap to Corey Clement followed by a pitch to Trey Burton ended with a touchdown throw to Foles on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line.
That put the Eagles up by 10 at the half, but Justin Timberlake had barely left the halftime stage when Brady came out with his first and second counterpunches of the second half, two completions to Gronkowski that totaled 49 yards and put the Patriots at the Eagles’ 26-yard line. That drive would eventually end with a five-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, who had worked inside Ronald Darby at the goal line.
The Eagles’ lead was down to a field goal.
And then it was back to 10 when Foles found rookie Corey Clement for a 22-yard score that held up after a replay.
And then it was back to three in a hurry as the Patriots went 75 yards in seven plays with the final one being a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Hogan.
When the Eagles could only answer with a field goal on their next possession, the Patriots smelled blood in the water and Brady attacked like a shark, going to his favorite crunch-time receiver Danny Amendola for three straight completions that put the ball at the Eagles’ 8. He finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown strike to Gronkowski — and when Gostkowski followed with the extra point the Patriots had their first lead of the night.
Remarkably, Foles and the Eagles answered again with a 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 2:21 remaining. A strip sack followed and the first Super Bowl celebration in Philadelphia history was about to begin.
That it came against Brady and the Patriots in an evening when they were also brilliant had to make it even more satisfying for Eagles fans.