Too often great moments in sports get caught up in history and debates about which game or athlete were better. I’m here to do just that. This game’s greatness should, and will, be appreciated by everyone who’s not a Pats fan. It was high flying from kickoff until Tom Brady’s desperation heave that burnt the remaining seconds of the Patriots’ waning dreams to tie the Steelers for the winningest franchise of all time. The Eagles were firing on all cylinders in one of the most complete team performances in NFL history, and Tom Brady put together the first ever 500 yard passing game in postseason history. Both teams threw a pass to their quarterback, and there was plenty of kicking drama. Among all else though, this Super Bowl had only one punt. Greatest Super Bowl ever? Greatest Super Bowl ever.
First and foremost, this Eagles team is one of the best stories in NFL history. Nick Foles is a Super Bowl MVP, and the first backup QB going into the season to win since Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI. And boy did he ever do it in dramatic fashion. Foles didn’t take one sack, took some shots from James Harrison and crew, caught a touchdown, and made minimal mistakes. Foles could not have done it without a fantastic team effort though. The defense struggled at times, but ultimately did just enough to slow down the best offense, by a wide margin, in the NFL. They kept getting pressure on Brady, and finally were rewarded with one season-defining sack that gave the Eagles the ball and possession with just over two minutes to play. Both defenses kept coming close to ending drives, yet could never make the knockout punch. Finally, Brandon Graham put an end to what was supposed to be Tom Brady’s signature Super Bowl thriller, long before anyone expected it to end.
The Eagles did their best to disguise it, but this game was a classic David vs. Goliath showdown. For good reason, just about everyone counted them out well over a month ago. In the regular season they played the weakest schedule in the NFC, and collapsed backward into the postseason and home field advantage. Their postseason felt more like a formality than destiny, and the Eagles were underdogs in every single postseason game. The Eagles were just one of many to don the underdog mentality before tonight, but in Super Bowl LII they claimed it as their own. Carson Wentz’s near-MVP season was not wasted, but he’ll now have to live in the shadow of his backup. Nick Foles will almost certainly be traded for a first or second round draft pick, to clear cap space for the Eagles who are currently $7,000,000 over the cap. This team never attacked without the mentality of a top dog, from when they needed a 4th down stop against Atlanta, to when they had to pick up a 4th down in order to piece together a seven-minute drive against the New England Patriots. Doug Pederson’s team never let off the gas, and fans should be rooting to see them back in the Super Bowl next year.
In the other lockeroom, a much different reality is setting in. Tom Brady put together one of the greatest losing performances in NFL history, and his legacy still took a hit. The entire game felt like he was playing against an elite pass rush, a closing window, injuries, and his own defense and special teams. Part of what made this game great was the urgency in the air from opening kickoff. After that opening drive, the reality that this may be the final game for the Patriots’ dynasty, set to lose both coordinators and face a difficult cap situation this offseason, set in rapidly. On nearly every drive, Tom Brady rose to the occasion and delivered the first ever 500 yard passing game in postseason history, but for the first time in nearly two years, it was all for nothing. After some early kicking woes, a common theme for the Patriots in the playoffs the past three seasons, the Pats were playing from behind nearly the whole game. The second half was the real Tom vs. Time. Super Bowl LI may have had some fantastic drama, but the first 45 minutes were dull. For the first time ever, we saw a Tom Brady offense put points on the board in the first quarter, but that still was not enough. Despite the loss, Brady treated the audience to arguably his best Super Bowl performance. He shattered his own yardage record despite throwing less passes than 10 other quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. His 505 yards on 48 attempts make him just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 500 in under 50 attempts and lose. Years from now fans will discuss how Tom Brady once threw for 500 yards in the Super Bowl and lost. This performance justified the second Super Bowl MVP for a losing player. Most fans agree that the regular season MVP should not necessarily go to the best team on the best player. The fact of the matter is that 99.99% of quarterback performances throughout NFL history would have resulted in a blowout tonight. Such an effort from Brady was the valiant sacrifice that kept this game so entertaining. Rarely do we get to see a player of his caliber fall just short on the biggest stage, and I hope fans took in the possible end to a dynasty. James White, Gronk, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan all did their best to keep Philly fans on the edge of their seats as well. This loss will be an extremely tough pill for the Patriots to swallow, and that’s why this game was so great. Many players deserved a ring tonight, and not all of them will leave with one. Super Bowl LII was the greatest testimony yet to just how difficult, and momentous, it is to win a championship.