New England's defense not up to Super standard

Eagle running back Jay Ajayi runs through the tackle of New England’s Duron Harmpn in the second quarter.

MINNEAPOLIS – The momentum was back in the New England Patriots favor when they took a 33-32 lead, their first of the game with 9 minutes,  22 seconds left.

And then a bad thing happened – the defense took the field.

The Eagles  then put together  an 11-play, 75-yard drive, culminated by Nick Foles 11-yard scoring pass to Zach Ertz with 2:21 left.

That gave the Eagles a 38-33 lead in a game they would eventually win, 41-33, to claim their first Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.

All night long the New England defense came up short.

In this case, the statistics don’t lie. The Eagles gained 538 total yards, 164 yards rushing and 374 passing. Frequently when the Patriots needed a crucial stop, it was nowhere to be found.

“When a team is running like that and passing like that, it’s tough to stop,” said Patriots linebacker James Harrison.

The Eagles were 10 for 16 on third down and converted both of their fourth-down attempts.

Each time New England would creep back in the game, the defense would let the Patriots down.

New England, under defensive guru Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, are known for making adjustments during a game and definitely by halftime.

Even with the extended halftime, it didn’t make a difference as the Pats were picked apart.

Patricia is expected to be named the Detroit Lions head coach and he will enter his new job with a sour taste from his final Patriots game.

The Patriots were bullied up front by the Eagles offensive line and also missed several key tackles in a totally sloppy effort.

Adding to the misery and controversy for the Patriots was that standout cornerback Malcolm Butler was benched.The former Super Bowl hero could have certainly helped a defense that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles picked part.  Butler did appear on special teams but the secondary really could have used him.

Butler was treated at a Boston hospital last Sunday with an illness and didn’t travel with the team on Monday to Minnesota, coming a day later.

Belichick said after the game that the benching had nothing to do with health or discipline. When asked if it was strictly for football reasons, he simply replied, “Yes.”

Patricia didn’t offer much more.

“We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had,” Patricia said.

So former Eagle Eric Rowe started in his place and was beaten by Alshon Jeffery’s sensational 34-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Asked when he knew he would be starting, Rowe said, “It wasn’t official until the kickoff.”

Rowe’s response was telling when asked if the Patriots could have used Butler.

“Yeah, we could have used anybody,” Rowe said.

Belichick said there were many reasons for the dominance of the Eagles offense.

“They had a good design and kept us off-balance,” Belichick said.

Then he went more into detail, including his comment on the Eagles defense.

“The offensive line played well,” Belichick said. “They were getting pressure on the quarterback. Just give them credit — they did a great job.”

Patricia had admiration for Foles, who threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns and scored on a 1-yard pass reception, while earning a 106.1 passer rating.

“He went out and executed at a high level,” Patricia said.

In the first half, the Eagles gained 323 yards of total offense in taking a 22-12 lead.

On LeGarrette Blount’s 21-yard touchdown run, the Patriots barely touched their former teammate until he got near the goal line. That play symbolized the defensive frustration of the Patriots.