- By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nick Foles, the backup quarterback who nearly retired after the 2014 season, is now a Super Bowl champion.
Foles was spectacular as he completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles prevailed 41-33 over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII before a crowd of 67,612 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“The biggest thing that helped me is that I didn’t have to be Super Man,” said Foles, who was named Super Bowl MVP. “I had a number of guys make plays for me.”
Foles took over after Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 10 against the Rams. The Eagles had the No. 1 seed wrapped up, but no one believed Foles could lead them to a Super Bowl title.
The Eagles were underdogs in each playoff game and proved their doubters wrong.
“A lot of people counted him out and didn’t think he could get it done,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I believed in him. The staff believed in him. The players believed in him.
“We just needed time. We needed time together to work out some things. This whole postseason, Nick has shown exactly who he is and what he can do and what he’s capable of doing.”
It was the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory and first NFL title since 1960.
The victory was not secure until a Patriots’ Hail Mary pass hit the turf with no seconds remaining on the clock.
With the Eagles holding to a five-point lead, 38-33, defensive end Brandon Graham punched the ball loose from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and it was recovered by rookie defensive end Derek Barnett with just over two minutes to play. Kicker Jake Elliot made a field 46-yard field goal with 1:10 left to give the Eagles the final margin.
Brady got the ball back at his 9-yard with 58 seconds to play and no timeouts. Brady had directed 11 game-winning drives in overtime or the fourth quarter in his playoff career.
This time, his desperation pass from New England’s 49-yard line was incomplete.
Brady completed 28 of 46 passes for 505 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 115.4.
“It’s tough to lose these games,” Brady said. “We fought to the end, but no one is going to feel sorry for us.”
The Eagles finished the season 16-3, which included a 15-10 victory over the Falcons in the divisional playoff round. The Falcons stalled in the final minutes on the 2-yard line.
The Patriots, who were seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, finished the season 15-4.
“I’m really proud of the way our team competed,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “I’m proud of the way our players and coaches competed for 60 minutes. It just wasn’t enough.”
The Eagles took the 38-33 lead when Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz with an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes remaining. The play, on a third-and-seven, was reviewed as Ertz bobbled the pass entering the end zone.
Defense was lacking in the championship contest.
The game set a record for most combine yards in a Super Bowl with 950 yards by the end of the third quarter. The previous record was 929 by the Redskins (602) and Broncos (327).
Foles completed a 17-yard pass to Torrey Smith in the third quarter to put the total combined yards at 943.
The teams punted only once.
Brady directed three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half to erased a 10-point halftime deficit, 22-12, and eventually take a 33-32 lead with 9:22 to play.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski had just one catch on five targets for nine yards in the first half. Brady leaned on him heavily in the second half.
The Patriots had the ball to open the second half. Brady directed five of six passes to Gronkowski, who made four catches for 68 yards and a five-yard touchdown catch. The extra point made it 22-19.
The Eagles answered with a touchdown drive as Foles tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to running back Jay Ajayi. The extra point pushed the Eagles lead back to 10, 29-19.
As the Falcons know, the Patriots would not back down. They came right back with a another touchdown drive as Brady connected with Chris Hogan for a 26-yard touchdown. After the extra point, the Eagles led 29-26.
The Eagles added a field goal and Brady answer with a four-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. The extra point gave the Patriots their first and only lead of the game.
Behind the steady hands of Foles, the Eagles held a 21-12 lead at halftime.
The Eagles scored on their first two possessions and took an early 9-3 lead.
The Eagles opened the game with a 14-play drive that reached New England’s 2-yard line behind the hot passing of Foles. But after an offsides penalty on Ertz, the Eagles’ drive stalled and they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Jake Elliott.
The Patriots answered with a nine-play drive that covered 67 yards. Stephen Gostkowski added a 26-yard field goal to tie the game.
After opening with a methodical drive, the Eagles zipped down the field on their second possession. After a short pass to Nelson Agholor for seven yards, running back LeGarrette Blount busted loose for a 34-yard gain. On next play, Foles connected with Alshon Jeffrey on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Jeffrey made a spectacular catch on the play, but Elliott missed the extra point.
On their ensuing possession, the Patriots got a 51-yard catch-and-run from Danny Amendola. But they botched a field goal attempt after center Joe Cardona rolled the snap back to the holder. Gostkowski double-clutched and his 26-yard attempt banged off the left upright.
The Eagles were stopped on their next possession and the Patriots were stopped after Brady dropped a pass from Amendola on a gadget play on third down. A pass to Gronkowski was incomplete on fourth down.
After the three-and-out, Foles went back to work. On a third-and-7 from the 38, he found Ertz over the middle for 19 yards. After an incompletion, Foles looped a long pass to Jeffrey, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for 22 yards. Then, Blount weaved his way through the left side of the line and scored on a nice 21-yard touchdown run. The Eagles elected not to kick the extra point. Their two-point conversion pass attempt to Jeffrey was incomplete as they took a 15-3 lead.
It was Blount’s 11th postseason touchdown, more than any player not already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After getting a big Brady to Rex Burkhead pass play that covered 49 yards, the Patriots got a 35-yard field goal from Gostkowski to make it 15-6 with 7:24 left in the second quarter.
The Eagles made their first big blunder when Foles’ deep pass intended for Jeffrey was intercepted by New England safety Duron Harmon with 5:01 to play in the second quarter. Jeffrey, who was covered tightly by Stephon Gillmore, tipped the ball up and couldn’t control it. Harmon came over and made the interception.
The Patriots marched down the field and running back James White, who ran through three missed tackles, scored on a 26-yard touchdown run. Gostkowski missed the extra point and the score was 15-12.
The two minute warning came after the kickoff return. The Eagles stayed aggressive and Foles connected with running back Corey Clement on a wheel route out of the backfield on third-and-3 from their 37. Clement turned the short pass into a 55-yard gain down to New England’s 8-yard line.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, the Eagles went with a razzle, dazzle play to befuddle the Patriots. The ball was snapped to Clement, who started running to his left before flipping it back to tight end Trey Burton, a former quarterback, who tossed a soft pass to Foles, who’s slipped out the right side of the backfield unnoticed.
Unlike Brady, Foles hauled down the pass for the touchdown. Elliott’s point after gave the halftime margin.
Early in the second quarter, New England wide receiver Brandin Cooks suffered a concussion after getting hit in the open field by safety Malcolm Jenkins on what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit. He was later declared out of the game.
Also, cornerback Malcolm Butler was sick and only played on special teams.
Brady has made the Super Bowl 8 of 16 seasons as a starter.
Brady had previous victories in the Super Bowl over the Rams (Super Bowl XXXVI), Panthers (XXXVIII), Eagles (XXXIX), Seahawks (XLIX) and Falcons (LI).
Both of his Super Bowl losses were to the New York Giants (XLVI) and (XLII).