First, I want to say congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles. This one hurts to say, but since I never believed in them — I didn’t pick them once these playoffs — I have to give them the respect they deserve. I still think they should have lost though. If it wasn’t for two iffy touchdown calls and some terrible, I mean TERRIBLE, coaching by Bill Belichick in benching Malcolm Butler, the Patriots probably would be parading around Boston right now with their sixth Lombardi Trophy. But, it’s too late now to change those things. The Eagles made the necessary plays (or should I say play; it was one single play — the only defensive play by either teams in the entire game) to win, so that was the result. Here are my takeaways from the game though:
1. Doug Pederson is a GREAT coach
What Doug Pederson did in this postseason is nothing short of a miracle. Remember, the Eagles lost in Week 17 to the Cowboys by a score of six to nothing. They were shut out! One month later, they put up 41 points in a Super Bowl win. Now, obviously that is a massive change, but how it happened is what really is interesting.
What Pederson and his staff did was look back to 2013 and 2014, when Nick Foles was tearing up the league with Chip Kelly and the Eagles. This year’s Eagles took the best aspects of that offense, mainly the constant use of run-pass options (when the quarterback makes the decision during the play whether to hand the ball off or pull it out and throw). This was a type of offense that Foles was very comfortable with, and that was plainly evident on Sunday. Basically, Pederson completely changed the style of the Eagles offense…and still put up record numbers in the Super Bowl.
His gutsy play-calling also has to be praised, although only because it worked. If some of those same gutsy plays had blown up and lead to the Eagles’ demise, it would have been Pederson instead of the city of Philadelphia that was being burned down and destroyed on Sunday night. Of course, that didn’t happen; his calls worked like a charm, highlighted by the Eagles going 10 for 16 on third down and two for two on fourth down, including a flea flicker on fourth and goal from the one yard line.
This gutsy play-calling is not something new for Pederson though, and it is something that he has been developing since coming to the Eagles. Last year, he employed a very similar strategy as the one my little league baseball teams used to employ. During the early games, we would always steal, throw down to the bases to try to pick off runners, and employ a number of other high-risk, high-reward plays. By the end of the season when the playoffs came, we had all these plays down pat. For the Eagles, last season, Pederson made sure that his team got practice in a number of different scenarios. Even if the game meant nothing, he ran the two minute or four minute drills. He ran every trick play in the book and went for it on many fourth downs with the idea that he was preparing Carson Wentz and the rest of the team for this season, when they could actually implement these plays when it mattered. This strategy worked for my little league team, and it has given Philadelphia their first Lombardi Trophy.
Between the gutsy play-calling and his ability to remodel the Eagles’ offense, Pederson has set himself head and shoulders above most of the other coaches in the NFL.
2. This game should not hurt Tom Brady’s legacy.
Yes, 5-3, doesn’t look as good as 4-0. Yes, many people will say a third loss disqualifies Brady from the discussion for greatest quarterback of all time. Yes, many people will ignore the fact that the man threw for 505 yards! 505! That smashed his own record from last year for the most yards in a Super Bowl, and it far surpasses any numbers put up by Joe Montana or anyone else in the Super Bowl. Yet people will say it doesn’t matter because he lost.
But it does matter that he threw for that many yards. It does matter, or maybe this just shows his greatness, that to the last drive, to the last play — a hail mary, a shot in the dark where everything possible went wrong (Brady was pressured by a three-man rush and Chris Hogan was tackled half way to the endzone) — everyone in the stadium and everyone watching across America truly believed that somehow, someway, Brady was going to find a way to win the game. In addition to this, there are cold hard facts that support Brady here.
First, that was the first time EVER, in the 97 year history of the NFL, regular season or postseason, that a quarterback who threw for 500 yards lost a game. Because of that, it is obvious that there is no possible to way to put this loss on Brady. He did as much as he could. Yes, he fumbled the ball, but only because his offensive line absolutely collapsed while he was pushing for a big play. He had been protected fairly well all game, but for the last two drives, the Patriots offensive line couldn’t have blocked a bunch of third graders, let alone the Eagles scary front line. So no, this loss doesn’t fall on Brady.
This loss falls directly on the back of the defense and more specifically Bill Belichick. Belichick has always kept the Pats’ defense good enough to win, but in this game, his ego surpassed his common sense. While I’m sure he had a reason to bench Malcolm Butler, this was not the game to make a statement of that sort. Butler, all season, has been the best cornerback on the team, shown by the fact that he had played over 98% of the defensive snaps. Instead, Belichick went with backup Eric Rowe, who gave up big play after big play after big play. While he made a few good plays, they were few and far between, and in the end, Rowe made Nelson Agholor look like the second coming of Jerry Rice; he looked unstoppable. This defensive catastrophe leads directly to the second reason Brady is still the G.O.A.T.
In four Super Bowls, the most Montana’s 49ers gave up was 21 points. Brady’s Pats have matched that or given up more in five of his seven Super Bowls. In his last three, his defense is giving up an average of 31 points per game. Brady has done what he can, and for years, Brady has made up for those defensive lapses and filled the holes in the ship, but unfortunately in this game, it was like trying to duck tape the Titanic back together.
Finally, Brady’s entire body of work is so much greater than anyone else’s that it is impossible to disregard. Brady has been to eight Super Bowls. He has played in 37 playoff games, and with that he is the first quarterback to go over 10,000 yards in postseason passing, something Nick Foles is just now nearing for his entire career. Brady, despite the loss, is still standing alone when it comes to greatest quarterbacks ever.
3. The Eagles “quarterback controversy” doesn’t matter.
Carson Wentz was an elite-level playmaker at the quarterback position all season. Nick Foles played great in the playoffs.
It really doesn’t matter who the quarterback going forward is, they will have success either way. Doug Pederson is a good enough offensive coach that he is able to maximize Philly’s depth and plethora of talent to develop a system to help any quarterback succeed. After what the Eagles did this postseason it seems like they could turn even Johnny Manziel into an MVP caliber quarterback.
I do think Philadelphia should stick with Wentz though. He is 1. younger 2. more agile 3. better when things break down around him and 4. a more complete passer. Carson Wentz proved throughout this season to have an absolutely amazing arm. He can make any throw on the field, and while Nick Foles proved he can be a good quarterback when every receiver is wide open, he hasn’t proven he can make the throws into tight windows over the course of a season. Even now, nobody has enough tape of him in this Eagles system to find and exploit his weaknesses, although they very well might still be there. He very well may be a Trevor Simien type quarterback: He can play great early in the year, but as soon as defenses start making him throw outside the numbers he can’t complete a pass. Wentz doesn’t have those weaknesses. He has proved he can make the tight throws and lead the team to a great record. End of discussion. End of “controversy.”
Despite this loss, the Patriots are going to rebuild. They are going to reinvent their defense, and in all likelihood, we will be talking about the Patriots in their ninth Super Bowl next year, very possibly a Super Bowl that could feature a Pats-Eagles rematch.
Featured Image: today.com