Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Nick Foles, Eagles stun Tom Brady, Patriots, as worm finally turns


This was for those who’ve been waiting on the football gods for the equalizer.

Those who believed that while the New England Patriots were great, they too often skated between every line of the rule book.

Those who believed they should have lost to Seattle a few years ago when the Seahawks inexplicably bypassed handing off to Marshawn Lynch for a gimme touchdown run from the 1-yard line.

Those who believed a takeover by the Underworld was the only logical explanation for what happened last season against the Falcons.

Nick Foles considered retiring a couple of years ago and spent most of this season as a backup quarterback.

The Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t won an NFL title since 1960 and they’re coached by Doug Pederson, who was coaching high school football in Shreveport, La., in 2008.

There’s your equalizer.

Foles threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 2:21 left. Brandon Graham forced a Tom Brady fumble that led to a field goal in the final minute. The Philadelphia Eagles – are you ready for this? – stunned New England and most of the globe with a 41-33 win in Sunday’s Super Bowl LII.

Fly Eagles Fly.

Fly Eagles Fly?

Really?

So there you go Falcons’ fans: At least the Falcons lost in this season’s playoffs to the team that won it all ... something nobody would’ve expected a month ago.

Instead of Brady and Bill Belichick winning their sixth Super Bowl, Foles and Pederson won their first. Welcome to NFL Fantasyland. The last time Philadelphia could claim an NFL title was in the pre-merger, pre-Super Bowl days of Norm Van Brocklin, Chuck Bednarik and Tommy McDonald.

Their biggest highlight since might’ve been the movie “Invincible.”

“This is something you dream about as a kid, to be right here with confetti flying,” Foles said.

And now, the opposing viewpoint:

“Losing sucks,” said Brady, who threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns but failed to convert two early red zone situations.

Rumors circulated during the week that Brady and/or Belichick could retire after this game, especially if the Patriots won. An ESPN report regurgitated the speculation before the game. There’s no indication now it’s true but therapy could be in order, especially for outgoing defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, whose defense allowed 538 yards and 41 points. That will follow him on the way to his first head coaching job with the Detroit Lions.

“Obvously we didn’t do a good job coaching, missed a lot of opportunities offensively in the first half, didn’t play good enough defense,” Belichick said. “Just wasn’t quite enough against a good team like Philadelphia.”

Foles replaced the injured Carson Wentz, the season’s likely MVP to that point, with three games left in the season. He saved his three best career games for the playoffs, engineering upsets of the Falcons (15-10), Minnesota Vikings(38-7, with 352 yards and three touchdowns) and Patriots (373, 3).

He was named the game’s MVP -- and he’ll almost certainly go back to being a backup next season.

Philadelphia led 9-3 after the first quarter, 22-12 at halftime and 29-26 after the third quarter. But this was not the first time the Patriots have trailed in a Super Bowl. I’ll just leave it right there.

There were 74 points scored. Nobody expected a Big 12 game to break out. These were two of the NFL’s best scoring defenses during the regular season. But this whole week in Freezetown has been a bit odd so maybe more theater of the bizarre should have been expected.

Like this: For a half, Foles outplayed Brady. In the first half, he completed 13 of 22 passes for 215 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery. He was intercepted once but that was a so-Patriots-esque ricochet off of Jeffery’s hands at the Patriots’ 2-yard line and snagged by defender Duron Harmon.

Foles also was the better receiver. Brady dropped a certain pass on a wheel route after a pass from Danny Amendola from the Eagles’ 35. But Foles caught a 1-yard touchdown on a gutsy fourth-down call by Pederson just before the half. The play, called “Philly Special,” according to Pederson, saw Foles line up just off the line to the right and a direct snap go to Corey Clement, who pitched on a reverse to former Florida quarterback/running back/receiver Trey Burton, who threw to a wide open Pederson.

“The play takes a while so I had to pretend like I wasn’t doing anything (running a pass route,” Foles said.

This almost certainly will be factored in when Hall of Fame voters debate the merits of Brady vs. Foles.

Foles’ touchdown catch gave the Eagles a 22-12 lead in the Super Bowl … and I can’t believe I just typed those words.

But as title game norms go, this wasn’t the week or the year. Let’s start with the weather. For as much grief as Atlanta took 14 years ago after being hit by an ice storm Super Bowl week, the city was a relative tropical paradise compared to the “Bold North” (the cute euphemism plastered on all of the welcome signs).

Temperatures were in single digits or below zero most of the week. It snowed three days. The NFL also strangely housed the entire Super Bowl operation, including both teams, league officials and media headquarters, out in Bloomington and connected to the Mall of America, 15 to 20 miles from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Never before has a Cinnabon been so central to one of the world’s biggest sports events. So, yeah, maybe this whole Foles-Eagles-implausible-Rocky thing made sense.

But Brady/Drago wasn’t liking it. New England drove to the red zone on their first two possessions and came away with three points (a second field goal try hit the upright after a bad snap). Suddenly, when it came to red zone offense, the Patriots were channeling the Falcons.

But they turned that aforementioned ricochet interception into a touchdown, parlaying a suspect third-down holding penalty, a 43-yard pass to Chris Hogan and a 26-yard scoring run by James White to close Philadelphia’s lead to 15-12 and offenses took over.

Philadelphia (18.4) and New England (18.5) had the fourth-and fifth-best scoring defenses in the NFL during the season. But those teams didn’t show up Sunday. At the end of the third quarter, they had already combined for 55 points, 946 yards and 40 first downs.

The Patriots drove to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half. The Eagles responded with a touchdown and a field goal. Philly led 32-26 with 14:09 left. The Patriots missed an extra point but the Eagles’ botch was worse: Pederson tried to chase points after a touchdown gave his team a 15-3 lead and went for two – a foolish decision that failed.

Remember that, because: Brady capped a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with a four-yard toss to Rob Gronkowski with 9:22 left to take a 33-32 lead. It was the Patriots’ first lead of the game after touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the second half.

But back came Foles. (Who is this guy?) His 11-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 2:21 left finished a 14-play, 75-yard, seven-minute touchdown drive, the kind of drive that humiliates a defense.

“It kind of felt like whoever had the ball last could win this game,” Pederson said.

Pretty close. The Patriots got the ball back, trailing by five points. But Graham’ slapped the ball away from Brady and teammate Derek Barnett recovered at the 31-yard-line. That set up a field goal to stretch the lead to eight, 41-33.

That was it, save a late Hail Mary attempt. Songs from “Rocky” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” blared from the public address system. The fantasy was complete.

Listen to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast. Check out the podcast showpage at AJC,com/sports-we-never-played-the-game. Subscribe on iTunes or, Google play, StitcherTuneIn, or listen from the AJC sports podcasts page, the WSB Radio on-demand page.


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.