By Danny Picard
BOSTON — Well, that’s certainly not how I expected it to go down. The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions. They defeated the Patriots 41-33. Nick Foles was named Super Bowl MVP.
Here in New England, there are plenty of questions about the future. As I write this, it’s being reported that Josh McDaniels will not go to Indianapolis after all, and instead, he’ll stay with the Patriots. What does that say about Bill Belichick’s future? How much time does Tom Brady have left? Is Rob Gronkowski seriously contemplating retirement? And where will Malcolm Butler play next year?
There’s plenty of time to tackle those questions. But for now, Sunday’s loss to the Eagles is still fresh in my mind. So here are my top three reasons the Patriots lost Super Bowl LII:
1) Defense couldn’t make the big plays
-I’ll get to the Butler fiasco in a moment. But first and foremost, the rest of the Patriots’ defense just couldn’t make a big stop in this game. Part of it was the execution. Part of it was the game plan. And part of it was the personnel. Foles threw for 373 yards, and LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi combined for 147 rush yards. Every time it seemed the Patriots’ defense had the Eagles’ offense on the ropes, either Foles or his run game would move the chains. It didn’t help that Foles had a clean game. He wasn’t sacked once, but that was partly because the Patriots didn’t necessarily dial it up when it came to creative blitzing schemes. I was begging for a corner or safety blitz, or a couple linebackers busting up the A-gap. That never happened, for whatever reason. The Patriots never confused Foles. They never rattled him with a little extra pressure. And they never made him uncomfortable in the pocket. That’s a recipe for failure, as you saw with the 41 points allowed.
Now, to Butler. We’ll call this “1A.” Look, nobody is a bigger believer in “The Patriot Way” than me. There’s a reason why this organization is continuously so successful. That’s because Belichick has instilled a certain mindset into every player who’s walked through those doors in Foxboro. It’s a football team, and no player on that team is better than anybody else. The day after the Randy Moss trade, I asked Wes Welker what message it sent to the rest of the team. He said, “There’s a sign on the wall that says, ‘If you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be.’” I’m not sure what Butler did, but I don’t care what anybody says, he obviously did something. And if Belichick wants to send a message to Butler and stay consistent with his message, then I have no problem with benching him for the first half. But the Patriots needed Butler more than ever before in the second half, yet, Belichick decided to keep him on the sideline for the entire game. At that point, everyone is playing for a ring. Butler needed to play in the second half. The fact that he didn’t is inexcusable, and it might have cost the Patriots a sixth Super Bowl.
2) Philly stayed aggressive
-How many times do we see the Patriots’ opponent looking up at the clock in the second half, just trying to hold on for a win? The Jacksonville Jaguars did it in the AFC Championship when they decided to take a knee at the end of the first half. The Eagles got nuts on Sunday. Doug Pederson pulled out his bag of tricks and decided he was going for the jugular. Philadelphia went 2-2 on fourth-down conversions, one of which saw Foles going out for a pass and catching a touchdown. Credit where credit’s due. The Eagles were not going to simply try and run out the clock and hope that time would run out on the Patriots. They went out and scored 41 points, and they did it in the most ballsy way possible.
3) Patriots’ O-line crumbled
-There’s only so much blame I can put on the Patriots’ offense. They scored 33 points. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards and had three touchdown passes and no interceptions. That should be enough to win. But as bad as New England’s defense was, let’s face it, we all wanted Brady to have the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter. The Patriots trailed 38-33 after the Zach Ertz touchdown and got the ball back with 2:21 left in the fourth, still having a timeout and the two-minute warning. They began the drive from their own 25-yard line and needed a touchdown to win the game. At that point, who thought the Patriots were going lose? Not me. But on the second play of the drive, the Eagles rushed four and still got pressure on Brady, as right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Cameron Fleming got manhandled at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles forced Brady to fumble, and that was the ballgame. When Brady needed protection the most, he couldn’t get it, and in the end, that fumble was the difference between another Brady comeback win, and an Eagles Super Bowl upset.