It’s tough to lose a football game at any level when you score 33 points, even more so when the greatest quarterback of all-time Tom Brady has another special performance (28-for-48, 505 yards, 3 TDs) in a gilded NFL career full of them. The only reason that the Patriots (15-4) fell flat on their face at the end of Super Bowl 52 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis is because their defense couldn’t do a thing to stop the Eagles (16-3) who rang up 41 points on them. From start to finish, New England’s defense couldn’t get off the field as Philadelphia went 10-for-16 on third down not to mention 2-for-2 on fourth down. It was clear that the moment was never too big for Eagles head coach Doug Pederson or backup quarterback Nick Foles (28-for-43, 373 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 1 receiving TD) who polished off one of the most improbable titles with another amazing night and an MVP trophy to boot.
The easiest thing for frustrated Patriots fans to point to is the fact that cornerback Malcolm Butler suited up but never managed to play a defensive snap as he was only limited to special teams action. Head coach Bill Belichick predictably termed it a “coach’s decision” feeling that it “gave his team the best chance to win” but in all likelihood, we will probably never know the full story behind this shocking gameday roster decision. Early reports were that Butler had missed the team flight to Minnesota on Monday, remember that at Media Night that evening he wasn’t available because of “an illness.” Belichick fell to 5-3 as Patriots head coach in Super Bowls and questioning any of his moves went out of vogue years ago but this was a stunning development that will be talked about for generations to come.
Butler’s absence doesn’t excuse the rest of his defensive teammates who basically never showed up against a team that they were favored to beat by 4.5 points. Philly doesn’t have a particularly fearsome running game but you wouldn’t know that by the way they ran over the Pats defense to the tune of 164 yards. Old friend LeGarrette Blount (14 carries, 90 yards, TD) and former Dolphin Jay Ajayi (9 carries, 57 yards) repeatedly bounced off of hapless Patriots defenders who seemed to forget how to tackle. Another Eagles running back Corey Clement (4 catches, 100 yards) was surprisingly effective while wide receivers Nelson Agholor (9 catches, 84 yards) and Alshon Jeffery (3 catches, 73 yards, TD) along with tight end Zach Ertz (7 catches, 67 yards, TD) had their way all game with the New England secondary.
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Safety Patrick Chung (10 total tackles, 7 solo) was the leading tackler for the Pats which is never a good sign. New England didn’t record a sack and their only real notable positive play was the interception by safety Duron Harmon late in the second quarter after Jeffery juggled a possible circus catch. There was only one punt in the entire game (by Philadelphia) and the Eagles had five more penalties (6-1) than the Patriots. Brady’s fumble after a strip sack late in the fourth quarter was a killer but the Eagles owned the time of possession (34:04-25:56) and objectively, you have to conclude that they deserved to win more than the Patriots. This loss will sting for awhile but assuming that Belichick and Brady return for the 2018 season (something that was called into question Sunday morning by the national media), this team isn’t going anywhere. The AFC still runs through Foxborough but they will not win another Super Bowl without some serious overhaul on the defensive side of the ball.