Monday, February 5, 2018

Eagles Top Patriots 41-33 for Super Bowl LII Victory

The Patriots defense chose a bad time to revert to opening-day form (remember the KC game?). They allowed Philadelphia to score on eight of ten possessions en route to a 41-33 score that gave the Eagles their first Super Bowl championship. The loss puts the Patriots at 5-5 in Super Bowls, with Brady/Belichick sitting at 5-3 since the beginning of this century.

The Pats actually lost this game four times, and only three of them happened yesterday.

The first time they lost it was when they failed to replace two linebackers who left the team in the previous year. Jamie Collins was traded to Cleveland in 2016 and Rob Ninkovich retired during the 2017 training camp. And the Patriots did nothing to shore up their linebackers, who got torched repeatedly yesterday, giving up big plays in the passing and running games.

They had ample opportunities to add a linebacker or two. The team could have added depth during training camp or any time up to the trading deadline (October 31). In fact, when they traded QB Jimmy Garoppolo for a 49ers second-round pick, I wrote that I'd be happy if they turned around the pick to improve at linebacker. By then already knew that their only decent starter, Dont'a Hightower, was done for the year. IMO, it was malpractice not to improve at linebacker, because it was their biggest weakness.

The second time they lost was at 6:30pm EST last night, when they decided to play Eric Rowe at corner instead of Malcolm Butler. Butler had been ill during the week, but reportedly he didn't play defense last night because they coaches thought Rowe was a better choice.

That was okay, until they saw Rowe get beaten repeatedly. Once that happened, they needed to forget whatever message they were sending to Butler and put him in. But he remained on the sideline (except for special teams), despite playing over 97% of the defensive snaps this season.

The third time they lost was the trade of passes to the teams' quarterbacks. Tom Brady failed to catch a pass thrown to him, one that was an easy grab. That drop led to a failed fourth-down conversion, giving the Eagles a short field which they converted to a touchdown. If Brady caught the throw, they would have been at least in field goal range, but could easily have converted it to a touchdown (would have been first-down at the Eagles' 20-25 yard line).

A score there would have made it either 9-6 Eagles or 10-9 Patriots. Instead, Philly went down the field and made it 15-3, a much worse deficit.

Later that quarter the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-goal at the two-yard line, and ran a trick play where they threw to their QB, Nick Foles. Of course the pass was complete, and the halftime score was 22-12 instead of being much, much closer. (The missed field goal and extra point didn't help, but that drop by Brady was huge.)

The fourth time they lost it was the strip-sack of Brady at 2:10 left in the game. The Pats had just let up a touchdown, but it was only a five-point deficit. The Patriots had the ball at the 33-yard line with 2:16 left and a timeout in their pocket, 67 yards from a win.

And on that play, immediately at the snap, James White was wide, wide open in the flat for an easy 10+ yard pickup by the sideline. If Brady throws it to White, it's first down at the 40-45 yard line with over 2:00 left in the game.

But he held the ball, trying to go deep, and was sacked and lost the ball. When Philly recovered, I texted several friends that was the ballgame. Best realistic possibility at that point was an eight-point deficit with 60 seconds left and the ball at the 25-yard line and no timeouts. A much worse situation than the one they had before the fumble by Brady.

In the past, TB12 would always take the short throw and live to play another down. Only he knows why he decided to hold it there. But a completion to White would have ramped up the pressure on the Eagles and that is exactly the situation where the other teams usually collapse. Not this time; instead the Pats lost the ball and the game.

The offense played plenty well enough to win overall. Brady was mostly excellent (with a few unexplainable clunker throws in there), the receivers were very good, especially after losing Bradin Cooks, and Brady wasn't under much pressure in the game.

It was curious how often they split out the running backs as receivers, as I thought all week the best way to attack with the RBs was to throw to them out of the backfield. And three receivers had over 100 yards, Rob Gronkowski (116), Danny Amendola (152), and Chris Hogan (128). But all the problems notwithstanding, they did their job for the most part -- 33 points should be enough to win in the playoffs.

The Patriots defense was the biggest disappointment of the game, specifically the inability to make adjustments to slow down the Eagles. The Pats were one of the best clubs this year in second-half points given up. But last night they gave up 19 points in the second half, after giving up 22 in the first half.

This probably owes to a lack of talent, especially the long-term talent drain at LB and the fact they didn't play Butler when Rowe wasn't working. But if I'm the Detroit Lions, I'm a little worried about hiring Matt Patricia as my head coach, because this performance was really, really bad.

Strangely the special teams was a huge weakness for the Pats. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski blew multiple kickoffs, not high enough for the coverage to get there and not deep enough to force a kneel down. He also missed an extra point. And long-snapper Joe Cardona screwed up one snap, costing them another three points.

In the end the Patriots lost because the Eagles outplayed them. But they handicapped themselves by not adding enough talent at linebacker and then compounded that by not playing their second-best corner on defense. Was it hubris by Belichick? A power-play to show Kraft that he is still in charge? If it was either, it's silly -- because the opportunities to win championships don't come around very often.

In their recent Super Bowl losses, I blamed the offense for not putting up enough points early, whereas most of the press blamed the defense for not holding a lead. But this loss is squarely on the defense. They couldn't stop the Eagles and for the umpteenth time this year, they made a bad QB look great.

So where does that leave us? Rebuilding. Both coordinators (Patricia and Josh McDaniels) are off to other jobs, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is likely retiring (again), and they need a serious rebuild at linebacker and more talent in the secondary.

Last time they had to replace both coordinators, it was two years before they returned to the Super Bowl and ten years before they won another championship. So be prepared, could be a bumpy ride.

Non-Brady MVP: Chris Hogan, who kept the chains moving when the Eagles blanketed Gronkowski for most of the game.

Statistical Oddity: The 1,156 combined yards on offense are an NFL record for the most in any game, regular- or post-season.

Bonus Oddity: In the fourth quarter this season, the Patriots gave up an average of 16.5 points in the season opener and season closer (KC and Philly games). They gave up an average of 4.6 points in the fourth quarters of all other games combined.

Water-cooler Wisdom: "Holding players accountable is great, but benching Butler was just plain stupid."

Keep the faith, or not... sigh :(

- Scott

PS. 15-4 & 2-1 :( :(

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