MINNEAPOLIS — This night will be remembered for decades in Philadelphia, when old friends reminisce about where they were on Feb. 4, 2018, and parents tell their children about the moment the Eagles won their first Super Bowl. They’ll remember when Doug Pederson called the trick play at the goal line, when Zach Ertz dove into the end zone in the fourth quarter, when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball, and when the greatest dynasty in NFL history fell to an improbable champion from Philadelphia.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl. You can read that again. It’s not going away. The Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. A team with a backup quarterback and with players who wore underdog masks throughout the playoffs because they were never favored to win sent Brady and Bill Belichick home with a Super Bowl loss.
Pederson gathered his team together in the postgame locker room after the players danced and sang and chewed cigars and sipped scotch and enjoyed a euphoria that can only be experienced after winning a Super Bowl. He recited what had become a mantra for the team.
“An individual can make a difference,” Pederson told them,” but a team makes a miracle!”
“Goddamn we made a miracle!” one player shouted.
“We’re going to party!” Pederson said to cheers.
“Philly’s gonna burn!” another player responded.
It was one of the best Super Bowls ever played, and it had a finish that befit this year’s team. When Nick Foles connected with Ertz for a go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a five-point lead, the excitement of the fourth-quarter lead collided with the anxiety prompted by knowing Brady was on the other sideline. The greatest quarterback in NFL history took the ball with a chance to win – and the Eagles didn’t let him. Graham pushed through the Patriots’ offensive line and drove Brady down, popping the ball loose. Rookie Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. The Eagles’ pass rush was their edge over the Patriots, and it helped them win the Super Bowl at the most crucial time of the game.
A late field goal gave the Eagles an eight-point lead, and Brady had no magic left. Green and black confetti fell from above, the players experienced a joy they believed all week would come, and the fans who made the trek to Minnesota were louder than they’ve ever sounded.
“It hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m so excited for that locker room,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Everything that we’ve been through this season, to get to this point — a lot of people counted us out — but that locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me. …We found a way to get it done.”
This moment is bigger than what happened during 60 minutes on Sunday. Try nearly 60 years, generations of Eagles fans waiting since 1960 for this type of celebration. There were all those autumn Sundays, from the Franklin Field bleachers to the 700 Level at Veteran Stadium to pristine Lincoln Financial Field. There were seasons that started with championship promise and all finished with the bitter disappointment of the city’s desire going unfulfilled. And it would renew each year, from the draft to training camp to the preseason into the regular season, with every weekend serving as a referendum and the Monday-morning mood throughout the region dictated by the final score the day before. If the fans were lucky, they had postseason football. But the last game was never a victory.
Not this year. Not these Eagles. There will be a parade down Broad Street this week. It might be the biggest moment in Philadelphia sports history, with weathered fans collecting on the debt from all those years of agony. And it happened because the underdog Eagles were better than Goliath on Sunday.
“We’ve been doubted since day one,” Ertz said. “This team, no one picked us. We came out here and we’re world champions. First time in Philadelphia history. The city earned this win. We wouldn’t be here without fans in Philly.”
The fans are among those Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie dedicated the championship to during the trophy presentation. He purchased the team in 1994 and they’ve been among the most successful teams in the NFL during his ownership, but no ring to show for it. They finally won with a team that he labeled last week as the most special in his two-plus decades after they overcame Carson Wentz’s injury during an MVP-caliber season along with the absences of Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos.
“They just know how to win and they’ve done it all year,” Lurie said. “It’s a credit to the players, the coaches, Howie [Roseman] and his staff. It’s a deep roster. Lose five Pro Bowl players, probably the best young quarterback in football, and you’re the world champs.”
Foles finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown and was named MVP of the game. Tom Brady went 28 of 43 for 505 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount led Eagles rushers with 90 rushing yards and a touchdown. Corey Clement had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Ertz and Jeffery also had scores. It was because of the roster Roseman built and Pederson and his staff developed, beating the Patriots without the franchise quarterback who was supposed to be one leading them to this point.
“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me.”
Foles spoke throughout the week about “staying in the moment,” and it allowed to win an award and stand in a spot that’s usually reserved for Brady. Foles thought about his teammates, his family, his faith — and also when he was a kid growing up in Austin imagining a Super Bowl victory.
“This is always the outcome, the goal, but I feel like if you put it on a pedestal, you start forgetting to do the little things,” Foles said. “I was worrying about that moment, and that’s what I did today, we did today, just staying in this moment, doing everything you can in the moment to be successful, and the outcome was we were world champs.”
The Eagles jumped to a 22-12 lead in the first half, including two touchdowns that will be remembered in Eagles history. The first came when Foles faked a handoff and passed deep to the left corner of the end zone to Alshon Jeffery, who made an acrobatic catch over former Eagle Eric Rowe. Jeffery was signed during the offseason to be the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver, and though he didn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers this season, he showed how he is a difference-maker in the Super Bowl. After a prime-time game in Dallas earlier this season, Jeffery said: “Big-time game, big-time players make big plays.” The Super Bowl would qualify.
Before halftime, Pederson kept his offense for one of the best plays seen in a Super Bowl. After driving to the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, Pederson elected to keep his offense on the field on fourth down. Those who haven’t seen the Eagles this season might have been surprised. But Pederson has been aggressive all year, and he wasn’t going to stop in the Super Bowl. He’s a fearless play-caller, and he made the boldest call of his career.
The play was called “Philly special.” The Eagles have spent the past few weeks working on it, but never as well as Sunday. Jason Kelce snapped the ball to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to Trey Burton, who threw the pass to a wide-open Foles. Yes, Nick Foles caught a touchdown. Brady dropped a pass earlier in the game on a Patriots trick play. Foles showed he has the better hands, catching the ball for a 1-yard score to give the Eagles a 10-point margin. The Eagles did not call that play all season, and Pederson put it in the game plan for one of the biggest moments on the biggest stage.
“Just needed the right time, right opportunity,” Pederson said, “and the guys executed it brilliantly.”
While Justin Timberlake performed at halftime, the Patriots had an extended time to figure out how to attack the Eagles in the second half. They decided to do it by looking for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted five times on the opening drive of the half, including for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Eagles’ lead to three points.
The Eagles responded with their own touchdown when Foles found Clement for a 22-yard score on which Clement tiptoed the blue paint to stay in bounds. Clement, a Glassboro native who went undrafted in April, kept working his way up the depth chart to the point that the team trusted him in the second half of the Super Bowl to be a key contributor for his hometown team.
“Going back to when the season started, and then to this moment, it is awesome,” Clement said. “I’ve achieved my dreams, man.”
But even with a 10-point lead, there was little reason to think it was big enough. Brady’s been in that situation before. He found every soft spot in the Eagles defense, and the pass rush that was supposed to give the Eagles their edge wasn’t hitting Brady, and the Patriots scored again.
It seemed as if the teams would need touchdowns – not field goals. So when the Eagles settled for a 42-yard field goal to make it a six-point margin, the Patriots had an opportunity. Brady again drove the Patriots to a touchdown when he was barely acquainted with the Eagles’ pass rushers on the drive. He found Gronkowski for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 33-32 lead with more than nine minutes remaining. It was the Patriots’ first lead of the game.
The Eagles have been applauded all year for their resiliency. That showed in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Foles was the clutch quarterback Sunday, with a fourth-down conversion extending the drive before he found Ertz crossing the middle of the field for the decisive touchdown. Officials confirmed the score only after a lengthy review. The ball popped out of Ertz’s hands when he reached forward into the end zone, but it was determined Ertz was a runner by that point, and the Eagles went ahead.
“If they would have overturned that,” Ertz said, “I don’t what would have happened in the city of Philadelphia.”
The Eagles failed to convert a two-point conversion, and Brady had his chance to show the magic that has defined his career. Jenkins brought the defense together. They knew the Patriots needed to pass. They knew they needed one stop. They knew somebody needed to make a play.
“We’re this close to a world championship,” Jenkins said. “There was no doubt we were going to get that stop. And we realized somebody at the end of this drive is going to be the hero. Just be ready when the time comes.”
Graham was the hero. He forced New England’s first turnover of the game, and what seemed like a dream became a reality. The Eagles, at long last, won their first Super Bowl.
“The city of Philly?” Graham said. “We’re about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!”