Nick Foles comes up as unlikely hero as Eagles upset Patriots in Super Bowl
So this is what it takes to beat the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl? This is what it takes to derail a dynasty?
The Philadelphia Eagles came into Super Bowl 52 as underdogs because they lost their starting quarterback in December, and they have never won one of these national holiday games on Super Sunday, and because they came to this game with some guy named Nick Foles at quarterback and some other guy named Doug Pederson as their coach. And neither of them is Tom Brady or Bill Belichick.
This, in other words, was not supposed to happen. But …
Beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl is never easy. When they scored 21 points the first three times they held the ball in the second half and took a 33-32 lead, we all thought the same scary movie we’ve seen since 2001 was replaying before our eyes. But this epic brought a different ending.
A happy ending.
An amazing ending.
This one saw Foles, a man of faith who wants to be a pastor when he leaves the game, play as if touched by God. He completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. And this backup to Carson Wentz thus completed a postseason run in which his passer ratings in four games were 105.0, 100.1, 141.4 and then Sunday’s 106.1.
Yeah, you need a great quarterback performance to beat the Patriots.
“I have amazing teammates and amazing coaches around me,” Foles said. “I wasn’t worrying about the scoreboard. I wasn’t worried about the time. I was just playing ball. We knew we had to play a strong 60 minutes and we played 60 minutes to win this game.
“All glory to God. I wouldn’t be here without Him. … To be in this moment, to celebrate this moment, I’m just grateful.”
Foles and the Philadelphia offense that churned 538 yards in a game that will be in the conversation when people talk of the greatest Super Bowl games of all time were unleashed by Pederson with the same confidence he would have used with Wentz, his starter.
Pederson, an unassuming former backup quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, used to draw up plays for reporters in Thursday afternoon media touch football games in Davie. On Sunday he was the architect of a classic.
We thought long ago that the New York Giants set the template for beating the Patriots, right? Come with an unrelenting pass rush, particularly one that torments Tom Brady up the middle and, of course, get really lucky with some improbable catch that goes down in Super Bowl history.
Pederson rewrote the winning formula.
His recipe included acting like a Las Vegas gambler. And an Indy race car driver.
He took risks and bet on his players to perform. And when he was rewarded with a 15-3 lead in the second quarter, he went faster. He didn’t let up. He called riskier plays in tougher situations.
“I trust the players,” Pederson said. “I trust my coaches. I trust they’ll make plays. When you’re playing against an organization like that, you can’t play scared. You can’t slow down.”
And, yeah, that left the New England defense seemingly overmatched. Defensive genius Belichick and his smart defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who will soon become the Detroit Lions’ head coach, had no answers.
And how could they when the Eagles did this:
They had a 34-yard touchdown from Foles to Alshon Jeffery.
They had a 55-yard pass to running back Corey Clement that led to a touchdown.
They had a 36-yard run by LaGarrette Blount. And they had a 26-yard run by Jay Ajayi.
Oh, yes, and the Eagles converted five of eight third-down situations, which is a mind-boggling 63 percent, in the first half. And for the game they finished with 10 conversions in 16 tries.
But that wasn’t it. That’s not all it takes to make a dynasty bow.
Pederson, you see, had one of the Super Bowl’s all-time greatest trick plays on his play sheet: “Philly Special,” he said.
On fourth-and-1 with only seconds left before halftime, the Eagles employed a direct snap to running back Clement, who ran left and flipped the ball to tight end Trey Burton. And Burton then threw a touchdown pass to Foles, who had leaked out the right side and was all alone.
Yes, it was tricky. But did I mention it came on fourth down?
It was one of the Super Bowl’s all time great gutsy calls.
“We had just gone all the way down the field,” Pederson said. “I wasn’t going to stop.”
In the second half, Pederson kept his foot on the accelerator. In fact, he floored it.
The Atlanta Falcons lost the Super Bowl in 2017 when they lost a 28-3 lead against New England. And when the Patriots scored those 21 points right out of the gate in the second half, it seemed we were about to witness a repeat.
Except the Eagles matched the Patriots big play for big play. Foles threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Clement. The Eagles used run pass options (RPO) with great effectiveness.
“We knew this was going to be a grind,” Blount said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew this was a team we had to do everything perfect to beat. We did everything that we had to do to get the W.”
That didn’t happen until Brandon Graham, a smallish veteran defensive end, forced Brady to fumble late in the game — marking the first real play that defense made on the night. The result was sealed.
And afterward, something amazing happened.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters that he would take the next few weeks to decide his future, meaning he was going to consider retirement. The specter of Belichick possibly retiring came up in a national report.
It was as if this blow could bust up the dynasty.
This, while both Pederson and Foles got up on the stand that the NFL erected amid confetti and loud music, and gave “glory to God,” as Pederson said.
So, yeah, we have a new template for beating Brady and Belichick and their dynasty that has lasted so long.
Perform as if anointed by God himself.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero