Image copyright: Usa today
MINNEAPOLIS — Usually, Tom Brady is the safest bet in football with a game on the line.
So, if you expected it to happen again, figured the iconic Patriots quarterback would lead his team down the field for the touchdown that capped another comeback win and added another layer of glory to his illustrious resume, there is no shame in being wrong.
It has occurred so many times before.
Fourth quarter. Game on the line. Brady with the football.
It’s just that this time, the Eagles flipped the script. Turns out there was no sure thing coming against a gritty unit that allowed Brady to pass for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards, but delivered the one big defensive play that essentially sealed a 41-33 setback for Bill Belichick & Co.
Brandon Graham crashed into Brady and forced a pop-up that was snagged by rookie Derek Barnett with just over two minutes to play. And that was pretty much that. Brady Time became Turnover Time.
Brady sat on the turf after the fumble, while the Eagles danced in celebration. His body language screamed dejection, and it was undoubtedly wrapped in the realization of the opportunities squandered while coming so close to a sixth Super Bowl ring.
“Losing sucks,” Brady said afterward.
It seems odd that in a track meet of a game when the teams combined for an astounding 1,151 yards and there was just one punt, that it would be settled by defense. Graham’s hit on Brady — on a second-and-two from the Patriots’ 33 — was also the only sack of the game. It came at the perfect time for Philadelphia, allowing a new twist on the “defense wins championships” mantra.
“We had a good chance there, and they made a good play,” summed up Brady.
While suspense mounted after New England set up for a drive at its 25-yard line with 2:21 on the clock, trailing 38-33, the Eagles were determined to be anything but Brady’s foil for another comeback.
All season, the Eagles thrived on being the underdogs and playing through one dose of adversity after another. That resilience flowed through the defense as they looked Brady in the eye in crunch time.
“At that point, it was just, ‘Do your job,’ “ said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, ironically — or not — using a phrase that Belichick often recites as he described the mind-set on the pivotal drive. “There was no doubt that somebody at the end of this was going to be the hero.”
Video copyright: NFL
Graham, the team’s sack leader, was poised to deliver. He barreled into Shaq Mason to push the pocket, then swiped as he crashed into Brady to jar the ball loose. While Graham won his physical matchup, he pointed to the coverage on the back end that forced Brady to come off his initial read. It allowed another fraction of time for the rush.
“We knew Tom Brady was trying to take us out,” Graham said. “And we knew we’d have an opportunity when he’d have to hold the ball.”
Securing the football, though, was not exactly Brady’s forte this time. Two of the most indelible Brady images from LII are of the magical quarterback losing the football.
Long before the fumble, there was the dropped pass. He couldn’t hang onto the ball to finish off what could have been a killer of a trick play early in the second quarter.
On third-and-five from the Eagles’ 35 yard line, soon-to-be-departed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up a reverse flea-flicker that set up Danny Amendola to lob a pass to Brady in the right flat.
Brady was so wide open you’d think they forgot to cover him. Or just never thought of it. It’s not every day that Brady runs routes like a receiver. But he muffed the perfect play, which could have netted much more than a first down.
They went for it on fourth down, but Brady’s pass to Rob Gronkowski was broken up.
Turns out that the sequence of squandered opportunity would be used against the Patriots in a big way — at least when it came to the optics. And the results.
See, the Eagles went for it on fourth down, too, later in the quarter.
And Doug Pederson also had a pass to his quarterback — Nick Foles — stashed in his playbook.
Image copyright: Fantasysports
The Eagles hit on their trick play, right before the half, when rookie running back Corey Clement took a direct snap, flipped the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who found the eventual Super Bowl MVP in the corner of the end zone for a 1-yard TD on a play dubbed “Philly Special” that was installed three weeks ago.
Gutsy call by Pederson. But it was even more stunning because it was pretty much a back-at-you type of play. Pederson got the best of Belichick. And Foles got the best of Brady.
That sounds weird enough. For all of the times we’ve seen Brady excel on the big stage, this time the football gods were against him. On Saturday, the 40-year old was named the NFL’s regular-season MVP for the third time in his career. But on Sunday night, he lost against the ultimate underdogs.
The night ended for Brady with one last desperate heave to the end zone for a Hail Mary as the clock expired.
But there was no miracle for Brady this time. Like his quest for another ring, the pass fell incomplete.