Superbowl Analysis: 2018

Unless you’ve been spending a great deal of time beneath a rock, you probably knew that the Super Bowl was this past weekend. Whether someone watches the game or chooses to ignore it, almost everyone knows when Super Bowl Sunday is near. It’s widely known that the Super Bowl is and has long been the single most watched US television broadcast for several decades. According to The Guardian, on average over one-third of the United States’ 329 million citizens are tuned in to the TV broadcast of the Super Bowl, and hundreds of thousands more stream the game online.

While it is the apex of the NFL season, the Super Bowl has become far more than just a football game. Millions of people across the country come together to celebrate this occasion with family and friends. There’s always a performance by a superstar vocalist and/or group at the Halftime show. Several companies pay millions for their best possible 30 second advertisements that either make anxious fans burst their guts laughing, cringe at their mediocrity, or shed a couple tears (looking at you, Verizon). Almost every part of the American culture is on display for a single day on which one team, its players, coaching staff, and front office executives will have a chance to write their names in the history books and win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.

This year was a repeat of the matchup from Super Bowl XXXIX: the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New England Patriots. Each were the #1 seeds of their respective conferences at 13-3 in the regular season, and both faced their share of challenges leading to this point. The Patriots opened the season by getting walloped at home by the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27, leading many to question if they still had their historic dominance. However, QB Tom Brady and company silenced all rumors of underachievement, coach-owner tensions, and lacerated hands on their way to yet another Super Bowl appearance.

The Eagles emerged as the team to beat in the NFC as they steamrolled opponents week after week behind super-human performances from second-year quarterback Carson Wentz and a surprisingly efficient defense. Wentz looked like a runaway candidate for NFL MVP honors before he and his team ran straight into a brick wall Week 14. Wentz suffered a season-ending ACL tear, leaving the Eagles’ fate largely in the hands of backup Nick Foles. Foles was no stranger to the spotlight, though. In his magical 2013 season, he played the Eagles to a division championship, while landing himself in the Pro Bowl. Though Foles began his second stint as the Eagles’ signal caller looking awfully overwhelmed, he lit the #1 Minnesota Vikings defense on fire in the NFC Championship game by a score of 38-7, leaving little doubt about his ability to direct the league’s #3 scoring offense.

So there they stood, two dominant teams that each were met with struggles on their respective journeys to the promised land of Super Bowl LII. It was all Eagles early in the game, as a surging Foles led Philadelphia to an early 16-3 lead over the defending champion Patriots. New England eventually found their footing in the second quarter, but the Eagles coasted into halftime leading 22-12. The Patriots continued to creep closer toward the lead through production form the entire New England receiving corps of TE Rob Gronkowski and WRs Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan (all with over 110 receiving yards), and eventually retook it at 33-32 in the mid-fourth quarter, eerily resembling their miraculous comeback over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. But the Eagles were prepared to do anything to win, converting a critical fourth down attempt and driving down the field to score what would soon be the game winning touchdown on a Foles pass to TE Zach Ertz. It’s always scary to leave the ball in Tom Brady’s hands with any amount of time remaining on the clock, and the Eagles defense saw themselves lined up across from perhaps the greatest player to ever set foot on a football field. But in that moment, the Eagles were the best team.

The Patriots’ penultimate possession ended prematurely, with Philadelphia DE Brandon Graham ripping through New England’s offensive line and strip-sacking Brady, and Eagles rookie DE Derek Barnett coming away with the loose ball. While the Patriots would have one last chance after that fateful play, the game truly ended with the only sack between either team, and Brady knew it. For the first time since February 2012, the seemingly godly Tom Brady looked like a mere mortal as he sat in disbelief upon the turf of US Bank Stadium.

No one would have expected the Patriots to lose an offensive slugfest, but the hungry, overlooked, and unanimous underdog Eagles, led by their their Super Bowl MVP backup quarterback, took them to the task, and beat the indomitable Patriots at their own game. Offensive firepower, aggressive play calling, and timely trick plays has defined the New England Patriots’ historical postseason success during the Belichick-Brady era, but on this day, they favored the first time Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles.