10 Takeaways from Super Bowl LII
It’s sobering to a degree, losing in the Super Bowl, especially a year after winning it in the most dramatic of fashions.
For anyone who knows me, I am typically a pessimist when it comes to sports. I never feel that anything my team does is good enough, and I am always expecting the worst out of them. I guess it’s a defense mechanism against being sorely let down when things don’t go my team’s way. Because when they don’t, it’s embarrassing.
It also doesn’t help that, with the exception of everyone from my home state of Massachusetts, nobody likes my teams.
The Patriots are cheaters.
The Red Sox have an insufferable (and subtly racist) fan base.
The Bruins are a dirty team.
In my case, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are an entitled school with a horribly overrated athletic program.
The Celtics are the only ones who haven’t done anything horrible yet, but don’t worry. If they start winning titles again, people will find something to hate about them.
Ever since the Patriots lost in 2007 to the Giants to squander an undefeated season, I have learned to keep my mouth shut (for the most part) about trash talking in favor of my team.
I was justifiably unnerved about the Falcons’ potent offensive attack, and the Patriots’ ability to keep up. Thankfully, they were able to comeback from 25-points down.
And when this season rolled around, and even more so as it progressed, with just about every team having at least one major injury, it seemed the Patriots were once again poised to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title.
So I was cautiously optimistic prior to last night’s contest between the Patriots and Eagles.
I didn’t see the Eagles as threatening of a matchup as I did the Falcons, particularly after they lost Carson Wentz.
And yet, here we are, a day removed from the Patriots 41-33 defeat at the hands of the NFC Champions. And I am sad.
So, let’s recap.
This game was a brilliant offensive showcase by both teams. The Eagles came out firing on just about all cylinders, with Nick Foles mixing in a fair amount of runs, passes, and RPOs to keep the Patriots defense guessing constantly. They would lead 22-12 at halftime, after completing a trick play on a reverse pass back to Foles to go up by 10 with 34 seconds to play in the half.
The Patriots also pretty much moved the ball at will, and came from behind to take the lead with just over 9 minutes left to go, 33-32. But the Patriots’ defensive struggles they had earlier in the season came back to bite them when it mattered most, as Foles orchestrated a nearly 7-minute drive in the fourth quarter to take back the lead, 38-32.
Tom Brady, with one timeout and a two minute warning, and poised to lead yet another comeback, fumbled the ball on his own 33, giving the ball back to Philadelphia with just over two minutes to go.
The Patriots would still get another chance, this time down by 8, but a hail mary would fall incomplete, and the Eagles would complete the upset, capturing their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, with a 41-33 defeat of the defending champions.
With a few hours of tossing and turning and not very much sleeping, here are my thoughts.
1. This was a great game. Like, a great game.
I say, through my gritted teeth. Setting aside the fact that my team lost the game, this Super Bowl was really solid. It might not be considered as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time (XLIX is still the best) when looking at the broad spectrum of things, but was still really, really good. It was an offensive shootout unlike anything we have seen before in a Super Bowl (this was the second-highest scoring Super Bowl of all time). It might not have had very much defense in it, and it was downright wacky on special teams, but it did provide a fair amount of drama, including a team coming from behind to take the lead in the fourth quarter, only to have it dashed by a brilliant championship-caliber drive the other way. An underdog taking down a goliath is always a lovely story as well. And while it pains me that just about every Super Bowl the Patriots play in has been decided by one score, it means that they contribute to making games super exciting. This one was no different.
2. The Patriots defense returned to form.
The problem was, that form was from week one. Remember when the Patriots defense was the best scoring defense in football last year, only to be the worst scoring defense in football at the start of this year? Well, that side of the team reared its ugly head on Sunday. The last time the Patriots gave up 40 or more points was to the Chiefs in that disgruntling season opener in which the Pats were torched for 537 yards. The Patriots gave up 41 points and exactly 538 yards to this Eagles offense, which was supposed to be the least of their problems, given Philly was starting a backup quarterback. With New England unable to get off the field on third down, the Eagles, drive after drive, continued to move the ball, scoring on 8 of their ten drives in the game, converting 10/16 on third down, and 2/2 on fourth down. This defensive unit’s bad tackling and even worse coverage left the offense hanging out to dry. But it was the decision of coach Bill Belichick to bench Malcolm Butler in favor of Eric Rowe that will be questioned from now until the Patriots win another Super Bowl.
3. The decision to bench Malcolm Butler impacted the game- and potentially the franchise.
Eric Rowe didn’t know he was starting until just before kickoff. “That wasn’t the plan,” Rowe said in a postgame press conference. Malcolm Butler, you’ll remember, was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, intercepting Russell Wilson’s pass to seal a championship for New England. But Rowe, who was tasked with covering Philadelphia’s Alshon Jeffery, got torched pretty much all game. It was evident from the Eagles’ first drive, when Rowe gave up two consecutive 15-yard-plus gains on third down to Jeffery and Torrey Smith. While he did break up a pass to force a Philly field goal, he got torched again by Jeffery, getting out-jumped on a 34-yard touchdown pass. As time wore on, and Butler hadn’t been seen yet, it was clear there was nothing matchup-based about his benching. There was no one to make a big play on defense when it was needed, something Butler could definitely have been there for. With no one to make plays, the defense looked more and more incompetent and tired. Malcolm Butler was right when he said the Patriots gave up on him. They could have used him. As a result, I think this was Butler’s last game in New England. They were going to trade him before this season started, but not playing him in the most important game of the year is probably the final straw. I wouldn’t be surprised if Butler seeks another team next season. I think this also creates a riff in the locker room. While there was a report that just surfaced about Butler missing curfew and being in possession marijuana the night before the game, I think we’re entering another lull in the player relationship to the so-called “Patriot Way.” If the goal is to win games, why wouldn’t you want to win games? I think sometimes Belichick is so smart he beats himself.
4. Eagles MVP- Nick Foles
Because of COURSE he was. The guy was fearless and all kinds of brilliant, and stepped up when he needed to. 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown. He had the Patriots guessing all game long, and they didn’t really have an answer. He also knew where to exploit New England’s porous defense. He was 6-for-7 for 137 yards when targeting Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, and Jordan Richards, who all played over Malcolm Butler. It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles decide to do with Foles next season. I think Carson Wentz will return as the starter, but will the Eagles decide to use Foles as leverage to bring in another piece defensively? The guy did just slay the goat, after all.
5. Patriots MVP- Tom Brady… I guess.
It’s commonplace to give Tom Brady the MVP when his team succeeds. I mean, a 40-year-old man just threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns. According to a report I literally found on Twitter about three seconds before writing this sentence, Brady had the best passing performance in Super Bowl history last night, based on volume. Allow me to explain what I just read.
Brady’s adjusted net yard total was 560. It subtracts 5 yards for every sack (we’ll get to that) and adds 20 yards for every touchdown. Over his 49 dropbacks in the game, that’s 11.43 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. The Eagles gave up just 5.10 ANY/A to opposing QBs, which means Brady’s was 6.32 ANY/A above expectation. He produced 310 Adjusted Net Yards above expectation last night, 30 more than Joe Montana in 1989.
Sabermetrics aside- Brady was stellar last night. Even though he took a loss, he gave me confidence (there’s that word again) about his future.
Also, he wouldn’t have scored on the trick play pass to him. The ball was overthrown and he had defenders in front of him.
The only reason I say “I guess” is simple. Losing teams just don’t typically have MVPs.
6. This game wasn’t about the linemen… until it was.
The key to beating the Patriots is easy- put pressure on Tom Brady by rushing four. Do that, and you’ll control the tempo of the game. And for the most part, the offensive line did its job. Brady took a little bit of heat, but managed to stay pretty calm in the pocket and make good passes. For a team with a really good defense and some better-than-average pass rushers, Brady was still able to shred the Philly defense. The whole game I was thinking “no one’s been sacked yet.” And typically when you’ve got an offensive battle like this one was, a sack can change the momentum of a game. And then the strip sack happened. It was like two giants were having a staring contest, and right before the end, the Patriots blinked first. All it takes is one mistake. I’m not going to fault the offense for giving this game away, but being able to block for another half second might have given the Patriots a chance to keep the drive going and win the game.
6a. Justin Timberlake was meh.
It was just a forgettable halftime show. I was bored. I also didn’t really understand the Prince hologram, or why it made an appearance, much less that Prince apparently wasn’t a fan of anyone recreating him after his death for a performance.
But apparently the kid who took the selfie with him is from my town. So that’s pretty cool.
7. The offense will be fine next season… dare I say better?
Brady, although 40 years old, just lit up a stout defense for 505 yards and three touchdowns. He also lost. He’ll be playing with some typical Brady fire under him next season. As for his supporting cast, there is a long list of free agent names that need to be resigned, among them Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and Danny Amendola. The idea is that all four will be resigned, although to lose either Lewis or Burkhead wouldn’t be a complete disaster. Looking at the offensive roster for next year, we’ve got Lewis, Burkhead, and James White in the backfield, with Brandon Cooks, a returning Julian Edelman, Amendola, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, and a returning Martellus Bennett (fingers crossed) for your receiving core. If this ain’t a high powered offense, even without OC Josh McDaniels next year, I don’t know what is. Where the Patriots really need some help is on defense. They’ll get Dont’a Hightower back, but with the uncertainty of Malcolm Butler and an impending coup d’etat on defense, not to mention the absence of Matt Patricia, who departed for Detroit, the team really needs to get its act together on defense.
8. We are witnessing the decline of the Patriot empire.
You read that right. This is pessimist me coming out in full force here. It was a long slog between championships three and four for New England. There were two Super Bowl losses, and some major, humiliating home losses in the playoffs to teams like the Jets and Ravens in between. Belichick finally seemed to regain control of his team since those losses to the Jets and Ravens and get the Patriots back to winning form. But this situation with Malcolm Butler has now been intensified and it worries me. And with Matt Patricia moving on to Detroit, I wonder if Belichick has lost one side of his locker room. I wonder how long the players are going to put up with this “everyone except for TB12 is expendable” mentality. Sure, winning is great, but at what cost, if you know you contribute to that winning but don’t have a hand in the ultimate result? If this thing with Butler gets bad and results in some kind of locker room issue, how long could it take to resolve? And can it even be resolved before Tom Brady gets too old to play? This game, more importantly this loss last night signified to me that this team is at a crossroads, and is teetering on the edge of making the league a wide-open playing field again if this team doesn’t get its shit together.
9. The Patriots will lose in the Super Bowl again next year…. Unless they buckle down.
Super Bowl LIII is in Atlanta, on February 3rd, 2019. The Patriots are currently the favorite to appear, if not win that game, one day after a demoralizing loss. And I would buy those odds, whatever they happen to be. The AFC is still a joke, and everyone except for the Steelers seem to still be a notch below the level of the Patriots. But this NFC is going to be tough next year, especially with all the returning players from injury. The NFC East is going to have two, maybe even three very scary teams in the Eagles (who will be contenders for the next three years), Cowboys, and Giants. The NFC North gets Aaron Rodgers back, and the Vikings (who should probably do something about their current QB situation) will look to turn the tide of the divisional race in their favor. Don’t sleep on the NFC South, as the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons (and potentially Tampa Bay) are all very underrated teams- all of whom are capable of earning upset victories over very good teams. And then there’s the NFC West, with the Rams, Seattle, and even San Francisco, who haven’t lost a game since Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback. The AFC has a long way to go, but there will be a really good NFC team looking across the field at the Patriots next February. And because we are now in the golden age of goat slaying, every team in that conference should have eagle eyes (puns) on the Patriots next season. Start preparing, nerds.
10. The better team won the game.
If you believe the Patriots should have won this game, you’re insane. I mean, yes, of COURSE they should have won this game. Coming into the game, they were in fact the better team. But when the Eagles lost Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson didn’t shift the offense to try to make Nick Foles Carson Wentz, he shifted everything around Foles to turn the Wentz offense back into the Foles offense. Foles was a really good QB when he played in Philly a few years back. And the Patriots, inexplicably (and I have yet to hear a good reason for it) were simply not prepared. Now, I know there’s no golden strategy for defending against the RPO. I wish there was, but there isn’t. But the signs were there, Patriots fans. The unexplained benching of Malcolm Butler. Eric Rowe being burned on two straight third and longs. And I’m not even talking about the trick play pass to Foles. Honestly, it was cute, and that was about it. I’m talking about the fact that New England could not get off the field on third down. The Eagles had ten drives and scored on eight of them. That is unacceptable. 41 points and 538 yards is the most points and yards given up by a Belichick Patriots team in the playoffs. Ever.
The game was never “out of reach” because a 10 point deficit isn’t a 25-point deficit, but I think that mentality made us believe we were invincible. We are not. The Patriots are human, run by human minds, with some flawed concepts, who came ill-prepared (or rather, thinking the Eagles would beat themselves) for the most important game of the season. When the Pats scored to take the lead, my first thought was, “there is far too much time left on that clock.” And while Tom Brady is incredible, it only takes one mistake to put the game away, and the strip sack came at the worst possible time.
Last year was the epitome of “defense wins championships.” The defense stepped up at the right times, keeping the Falcons out of the end zone while the offense chipped away. All we needed was the defense to step up once when it mattered. It didn’t. We lost. Better luck next year.
So that’s the end of me being incredibly pessimistic about the game. Fortunately, for New Englanders, we’ve got the Bruins and Celtics to look forward to come hockey and basketball playoff time in the spring, and the Red Sox just left for Spring Training this morning. Hopefully, the future will be bright.
But an even bigger issue is that we won’t have any more football until September. And I think we can all agree that that sucks.