After orchestrating last year’s unbelievable ending to Super Bowl 51, and perhaps the greatest comeback in sporting history as the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28, Tom Brady and his fellow Patriots would surely despatch of the underdogs, Nick Foles and an ailing Philadelphia Eagles just a year later in Super Bowl 52…wouldn’t they?
A game of thrills and spills saw Foles, a back-up quarterback nonetheless, lead to his team to the unfathomable victory of a life-time, as the Eagles soared to a 41-33 win in the Minnesota Vikings’ glorious US Bank Stadium. History was made as Philly won their first Super Bowl, ending their 57-year championship drought in the process, with a whopping 1,151 yards of offense generated by the two teams, beating any other NFL game. Ever.
There were jaw-dropping moments of intense drama, there was laughter, there were tears, this game had it all! It all began in less auspicious circumstances, with solid opening drives from both teams leading to crucial defensive stops, resulting in first the Eagles, then the Patriots kicking short field goals to tie the score up at 3-3 as the first quarter was coming to a close.
Foles, under the intense scrutiny of some 103.4 million US TV viewers, was coming into the game slowly, but surely, showing the ability that led his team through three straight play-off games as underdogs, since the talented Carson Wentz went down at the end of the regular season, with a year-ending ACL injury. His receiving corp of Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz were steadily moving the Eagles up the field, with their three running backs in Brit Jay Ajayi, ex-Patriot LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement making big plays at the right time to relieve the man under center of pressure.
Clement, in particular, starred as the game went on, with a memorable play involving a stiff arm seeing him make big gains in the second half of the game. But back to the first, and Alshon Jeffery’s burst of speed was utilised to perfection as Foles managed to find his wide receiver in the endzone, a magnificent 34-yard touchdown exposing the Patriots wavering defense. Rookie kicker Jake Elliott, a man who’s own story is worth a Google, missed the extra point, keeping the score at a reasonable 9-3.
The Patriots, though, were on the rampage. Brady managed to somehow escape Eagles pressure to move his team up the field, with a precarious looking 3rd and 2 kicking off the second quarter. What happened next was a key turning point in the game. Handing off the ball to receiver Brandin Cooks, in an attempt to dash to the first down didn’t quite work, Cooks’ audacious hurdle going wrong, Rodney McLeod making the spectacular play and another field goal being set up, as fourth down sprang up. But the snap went all wrong, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s resulting shank hit the upright.
Later, the real trickery began, as the Patriots regained possession from an Eagles punt. Brady’s hand-off to running back James White was flipped to receiver Danny Amendola, whose pass targeted Brady, now in the wide receiver position! The devious play attempt was agonisingly close to a completion, but the ball slipped through Brady’s fingertips, and Eagles fans could breathe a sigh of relief. The Eagles defense then pulled off a crucial fourth down stop, the gain the ball back and maintain their six-point lead.
Foles and co took full advantage, with more link-up play between the quarterback and Jeffery leading them into the redzone, where Blount extracted revenge on his former team. The running back jinked this way and that to find crucial space to wriggle into the endzone, to extend the Eagles lead to an impressive 15-3, at the halfway point of the second quarter.
Successive incompletions saw the Patriots settle for three points, before Foles and Jeffery made a rare error. Jeffery tipped his quarterback’s pass into the waiting arms of the Patriots’ Duron Harmon – ending Foles’ incredible streak of 113 career postseason passes without an interception in the process. Perhaps inspired by the first turnover of the game, Brady and his offense scampered down the field, a 43-yard pass to receiver Chris Hogan setting things in motion, before James White did his best Blount impression, scything through the defense to walk in for the TD, cutting the Eagles score down to size, by 15-12, after another missed kick by Gostkowski.
The game was on a knife-edge, the Eagles infront, but the experienced Patriots hunting them down like a shark after prey – lurking in the background, seemingly comfortable, ready to strike the killer blow whenever they saw fit. The Eagles didn’t quite get the memo though, as more masterful play-calling from head coach Doug Pederson saw the play that this Super Bowl will be remembered for come off. Facing a 4th and goal, on the one-yard line, Pederson tricked the Patriots at their own game, as Foles became receiver, collecting a pass from tight end Trey Burton, for a touchdown for the ages. The stadium, and many bars and homes, erupted, as the Eagles took a 22-12 lead into the half-time break.
A divisive half-time show from Justin Timberlake aside, the atmosphere was much of the same; yes the Eagles now had a fairly comfortable 10-point lead, but this is the Patriots, surely they’d have too much for the talented, sure, but inexperienced (at this level) Eagles. It took the Patriots just three minutes to make it a one-possession game, Rob Gronkowski converting from a sharp Brady pass to make the score 22-19.
Undeterred, Ajayi and Blount got to work, running for big chunks, before Foles got his head up and found Corey Clement for a HUGE touchdown. The game was truly back-and-forth, with Eagles players stepping up and making names for themselves, while the Patriots well-known roster did what you’d expect from them.
And they did it again. Brady found Hogan, for a quick 26-yard TD, with a few minutes left on the clock of the third quarter, the Patriots were just three points behind, in this end-to-end game, the score coming in at 29-26. While the league’s fourth best defense, was struggling to deal with Brady and the Patriots, Foles was doing his job, efficiently and effectively, as Elliott’s field goal made the lead a six-pointer. And then, drama.
With a little under 10 minutes on the clock, Brady found his tight end Gronkowski in the endzone, for the second time in the game. The Patriots had taken a 33-32 lead. Their first of the game. Millions around the world shook their heads in disbelief, Brady had done it again, the Eagles following the Falcons in conceding a Super Bowl lead to the all-conquering New England team. Once again, Foles didn’t get the message.
Converting a fourth and one on his own 35-yard line, with the season on the line, was incredible enough, so much so that finding his tight end Ertz in the end-zone, with minutes remaining, wasn’t that surprising. Yet, this was Nick Foles, a man regarded as a career back-up, orchestrating a young and hungry offense to an unbelievable victory. The Eagles, after a failed two-point conversion, were back ahead, the score, 38-33.
However, with 2:21 on the clock, Brady and the Patriots needed a touchdown to crush the hopes of Philly’s fans. A quick completion to Gronkowski set the tone, but as thousands of the 70,000 capacity crowd jeered the quarterback many regard as the best of all-time, Brady was finally caught in no man’s land by defensive end Brandon Graham, who recorded the first sack of the game in the process, stripping the ball from Brady’s grasp, before fellow Eagle Derek Barnett gratefully scooped up the goods.
Foles returned to the field, eeking out over a minute of game time, before Elliott trotted back out onto the field to extend the score to 41-33, giving the Patriots the ball back, with no timeouts and 58 seconds to save their Super Bowl. A few unbelievable plays later, by a seemingly unfazed Brady, and the Patriots had one last shot, it was to be a Hail Mary attempt at tying up the Super Bowl. Managing to escape pressure, he composed himself before launching a huge throw into the endzone, where the ball bounced around on the fingertips of the Eagles players, before hitting the ground, and ending the game.
It took a few seconds for clarification from the officials, but it was game over; Philly had won their first-ever Super Bowl in the most dramatic of circumstances. As a cascade of green confetti filled the arena, the triumphant Eagles team flooded the field, as the Patriots filed away, shifting out of sight. Ajayi was thrust a Union Jack, which he wrapped around himself, while Foles, the man of the hour Foles, was presented with the MVP award, as well as the Vincent Lombardi trophy.
Sure, in terms of pure history, it may not have quite beaten last year’s Super Bowl, dubbed by many as the greatest of all-time, but Super Bowl 52 was certainly an unforgettable game of football, helped along by many defining moments, and creating a new legend in Philadelphia’s sporting history in the process.