On Sunday, the world witnessed a Super Bowl unlike any before it — one where Philadelphia is left holding the Lombardi Trophy. Featuring a record-blasting offensive explosion and a redemption story for the ages, perhaps most significant was what it means for the future of the NFL and how the game is played and coached at the highest level.
Super Bowl LII shattered the record for yards in a Super Bowl by over 200 yards. The two teams compiled 1,151 yards over the course of the game. The game saw only one punt, one sack and two turnovers. The one turnover by each QB was the only bump in the road for either. The difference between the two turnovers ending up deciding the game.
The Eagles’ turnover happened in the first half, and was a fluky arm punt that put the Patriots in bad field position. The Patriots’ turnover was a fantastic pass rush by Eagles’ DE Brandon Graham that left the Eagles in scoring position. It occured with just over two minutes left in the game with a chance to win with one first down.
The Eagles were unable to end the game on that possession and settled for a field goal, giving Tom Brady a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. Brady was able to get over 500 yards on the resulting drive, but was unable to to connect on a Hail Mary. The Hail Mary was close enough to silence the stadium for a moment only for it to erupt seconds later with the cry of generations of unburdened Eagles fans.
Brady was admirable in defeat, breaking his Super Bowl passing yards record from just a year ago to go with three touchdowns and no interceptions. By the box score, it was the greatest performance by a QB in Super Bowl history, but in reality, it was the second best performance of the night.
Nick Foles was absolutely sensational in earning Super Bowl MVP. No one could have predicted he would shred Minnesota’s vaunted defense and out-duel Brady two weeks later, but here we are. While Tom Brady gained a majority of his yards on uncovered receivers and screens, Nick Foles was absolutely surgical. His touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement were incredible throws of the highest difficulty.
After one of the better two game stretches in playoff history, Nick Foles goes into the off-season as Carson Wentz’s backup. His career has been a story of high highs and low lows, but this has taken the highs to new heights.
With more tape outside of the oppressive offensive suffocation that is Jeff Fisher’s system, Foles is an attractive piece for QB needy teams, and a valuable trade piece for the Eagles who believe they have their franchise QB in Wentz. He is under contract for next year, and Wentz may not be ready by week one, so it will be fascinating to see how Foles’ off-season progresses.
For the Eagles, the game was won by their success when they went all in on aggressive play calls. Doug Pederson’s decision to call the trick play “Philly Special” on 4th and 1, and put the Super Bowl in the throwing arm of his backup tight end Trey Burton, has been universally lauded today. Since most of the sports world is prisoner to results-based analysis, it is easy to imagine a world where Pederson is lampooned for “getting too cute” and “giving up the points.” However, we saw that a short field goal is by no means guaranteed points when Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 26-yard field goal because of a bad snap and hold.
For all of the grief the nebulous ‘analytics’ took because of the Browns’ “perfect” season, the world saw them in action on football’s biggest stage. The Eagles have a coach in Pederson who actually respects the facts presented to him. He played the odds and maximized his win probability with each fourth down call — coaching to win as some confusingly call it. (Who isn’t? And if they’re not, why are they employed?)
The game was a possible glimpse into the future where yardage totals like this aren’t so uncommon. Pederson’s mentor, Andy Reid, says that the NFL is often five years behind the college game. Well, for the last five years, spread offenses have been putting up these types of numbers almost weekly in the Big-12.
The Eagles borrowed heavily from the college game on offense (and are obviously pleased with the results). The trick play Foles ran was very similar to the one Oklahoma ran last month in the Rose Bowl, and the same play as one he ran in high school. They also utilized run-pass options, a staple of the college game, though not nearly as often as the unusually off Collinsworth would’ve had you think.
As is typical of the modern NFL, the run game had little to do with winning. Neither team tried to “establish the run” or anything like it. Just a few months before Penn State superstar running back Saquon Barkley is likely to be a top-10 pick, it is interesting to note the earliest drafted running back of either Super Bowl team was the Patriots’ James White out of Wisconsin in the fourth round, and White’s value primarily comes in the passing game. Corey Clement, another Wisconsin running back, was an undrafted free agent rookie, who had 100 yards receiving.
The Eagles and Patriots both made it to the Super Bowl on the cutting edge of playstyle and roster construction in the NFL. As long as teams refuse to exploit readily available, new information, we will continue to see the Eagles and the Patriots at the top of their respective conference.
Super Bowl LII was a textbook example of why the NFL continues to be the premiere American entertainment product — bittersweet because it won’t be back for 212 days, but anyways, my apologies to tails bettors and my congratulations to Eagles fans everywhere.