Last night, the Philadelphia Eagles scored a fourth-down touchdown with one of the most inventive plays in modern Super Bowl history, averaged over six yards per rush, and punted just once. Yet they were somehow, statistically speaking, the Super Bowl’s second-best offense. Tom Brady’s 505 passing yards are a playoff record and the Patriots’ 613 yards are the most in a Super Bowl history, and the second-most in playoff history (they fell 13 yards short despite having 10 fewer minutes of the football than the record holders). All that virtuosic performance got them was a runner-up medal and deserved mockery for not doing even more. That’s how spectacular of an offensive game the Super Bowl was, as both teams combined for 1,151 yards, the most in any game in NFL history, and also set several other records along the way.
Let’s start with the Patriots, from whom fans have come to expect this level of near-perfection. New England never punted, scoring on every single drive but the one that ended in a missed chip-shot field goal, a failed fourth-down conversion, the pair that closed each half before they could score, and the crippling strip sack fumble that set up Philly’s game-sealing field goal. Had Ryan Allen not bobbled a low Joe Cardona snap, the teams would have set a new combined Super Bowl scoring record. Brady was deadly when he was able to diagnose Eagles’ coverages and find mismatches, and while it feels odd criticizing any aspect of his performance besides the play where he ate shit and failed to catch a lob pass, he missed a few throws that could have set this game further aflame.
For a sense of how great of a game Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called, consider the first drive of the third quarter, in which New England zeroed in on Rob Gronkowski. After racking up just nine first-half yards, the Patriots kept getting mismatches on Gronk, who caught four passes for 68 yards and the quick touchdown.
And they still lost because the Eagles matched them drive for drive. Philly was one of the best rushing teams in the NFL this year, and both LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi got theirs. But what defined the Eagles’ game plan was an impressive offensive balance. Blount and Ajayi only rushed a combined 23 times, but their effectiveness (Blount’s table-setting 36-yarder was particularly devastating) helped Nick Foles go hog-wild throwing it down the field.
By now it’s been made plainly obvious how shocking it is that the big lad took over Philly’s offense and did so well, but let us state it once again: he just capped off one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history. He finished with a 72.6 completion percentage and won three games he was favored to lose. It’s not that the Eagles simplified their playbook for Foles, either. He went 11-for-19 on throws that travelled 10 yards or more through the air. You’ve seen it by now, but gaze at this absolute dime:
The Eagles simply bristled with confidence all night, and the Patriots never quite adjusted. Doug Pederson truly went for New England’s neck, as Foles ended up with five passes for 20 or more yards (two more than he had for the entirety of the regular season). Five Eagles players had at least seven touches, and rookie running back Corey Clement was particularly effective at slipping out of the backfield and getting open, leading Philly with 100 receiving yards. Philly went for it on fourth down twice, and both times, they extended eventual touchdown drives. Foles hit Zach Ertz in the fourth quarter in what would turn out to be the go-ahead 14-play drive, though the play everyone will remember was the touchdown he caught from Trey Barton late in the first half.
The Eagles first added the “Philly Special” to their playbook in January after Carson Wentz’s season ended, and they apparently only practiced it six times during the postseason. Eagles OC Frank Reich said he first saw the play when the Bears scored with it against the Vikings last season, and the fact that the Eagles busted it out in the Super Bowl on fourth down to score a touchdown makes it an iconic NFL play, and rightly so.
The experience of watching a football game is often one that requires more than a little self-delusion. Poor play and penalties can turn games to mush, injuries cast a pall over the whole proceeding, and reality altering replay reviews can suck the fun out of any watch party. With all these things constantly thrown in your face, it can be downright hard to honestly say that you are having fun while watching an NFL game. All of this adds up to make last night’s Super Bowl feel like an incredible gift. It was a perfect, thrilling, gorgeous football game. There aren’t many of those to go around.