MINNEAPOLIS — Five reasons the Eagles beat the New England Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII on Sunday night:
1. The coach
It’s easy to underrate Doug Pederson. He was coaching high school ball nine years ago, and his personality doesn’t cry out coaching genius.
But he did an exceptional job of preparing his players for the biggest game of their lives Sunday night. The moment wasn’t too big for them, and he deserves a good deal of the credit for that.
Once the game started, he, uh, he … OK, I’m just going to blurt this out: HE OUTCOACHED FREAKING BILL BELICHICK!
He got Nick Foles into a groove early with high-percentage passes. He kept the Patriots’ defense off-balance all night with those RPOs (run-pass options) and running on third-and-4 and throwing on third-and-1.
He went for it twice on fourth down, including at his 45-yard line in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were trailing by just one point. But Tom Brady and the Patriots had put together three straight 75-yard scoring drives and Pederson knew giving them the ball back would’ve been suicidal.
The first of those two fourth-and-1s was the ballsy trick play in which tight end Trey Burton threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Foles late in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 10-point lead.
It was a shot across the bow of Belichick, who had tried to pull a little trickery of his own earlier in the second quarter when he had wide receiver Danny Amendola throw a third-and-5 pass down the field to a wide-open Brady. The pass went through Brady’s hands.
2. The turnover
For most of the game, the Eagles’ front four had very little luck getting pressure on Brady. He either got the ball out too quickly or used his superb pocket presence to sidestep rushers, or his line just kept the Eagles’ rush away from him.
Then, with just a little more than two minutes left in the game and the Eagles clinging desperately to a five-point lead, defensive end Brandon Graham got through Brady’s protection and knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand on a second-and-2 play. It was recovered by teammate Derek Barnett.
The play was a huge momentum-shifter. Brady and the Patriots offense had pretty much been unstoppable in the second half, stringing together three straight 75-yard touchdown drives.
After Jake Elliott kicked his third field goal of the game – a 46-yarder – the Patriots got the ball back at their 9 with 65 seconds left. That was still enough time for the Patriots to drive down and score. But invigorated by Graham’s strip sack, the Eagles’ front four was able to finally put heat on Brady on the Patriots’ final possession. He completed just 3 of his last 9 passes.
3. The quarterback
Nick Foles’ stay-in-the-moment approach served him well during the playoffs, particularly Sunday night.
There was no stage fright, The Super Bowl wasn’t too big for him. He capped his magical postseason with a 28-for-43, 373-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Patriots.
He did a masterful job of running the Eagles’ RPOs. His decision-making was impeccable. His performance on third down was out of this world. He completed 11 of 14 third-down attempts for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Nine of those 11 completions resulted in first downs.
The Eagles converted 10 of 16 third-down chances against the Patriots. Just two of those 16 third downs were 8 yards or more, which kept the Patriots guessing. In their three playoff games, they converted 60.5 percent of their third downs. Yeah, that’s right – 60.5.
Foles finished with an astounding 158.1 third-down passer rating in the playoffs. His overall postseason passer rating: 115.7.
4. The run game
The Eagles’ ground game had been running hot and cold for weeks. In their first two playoff wins over the Falcons and Vikings, the Eagles averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.
But against the Patriots, who finished with the second-worst opponent rush average (4.7) in the league this season, they put up 164 yards on the ground, their largest output since Week 12 of the regular season against Chicago (176).
With Jay Ajayi nursing a tender ankle, LeGarrette Blount got his heaviest workload since that Bears game. He rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries. Ajayi added 57 yards on nine carries.
The Eagles’ ability to run the ball kept the Patriots’ defensive players on their heels and prevented them from teeing off on Foles. It was a major reason for the absence of many third-and-longs.
Blount scored his second playoff TD on an impressive 21-yard second-quarter run. He also had a 36-yard run in the first quarter right before Foles’ 34-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
5. The rookie
Corey Clement has been a godsend for the Eagles’ offense. The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin caught just 29 passes in four years at Wisconsin and did very little pass-blocking there.
But he has developed into a solid third-down back. Neither Blount nor Ajayi is a very good blocker or receiver, and that opened the door for Clement, who has quickly developed his skills in both those areas.
On Sunday, he had four catches for 100 yards and a TD. He had a 56-yard catch-and-run on a wheel route in the second quarter on a third-and-3 play. It set up Burton’s touchdown toss to Foles. He also had an impressive 7-yard run inside the 10 on that drive.
In the third quarter, he beat Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers and made a nice catch in the end zone for a 22-yard TD that put the Eagles up by 10.