There was an agreed-upon formula for how the Philadelphia Eagles could beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. For the past two weeks, you’d hear it repeated on sports talk radio and ESPN debate shows, a jowly refrain from a Greek chorus of sentient ham hocks: “For the Eagles to have a chance, they’re going to have to sack Tom Brady.”
This was how the New York Giants beat the vaunted Patriots in 2008 and 2012, Super Bowl victories that are talked about like miraculous genetic aberrations. These were the first two salamanders to walk on land. If the Eagles wanted to do the same, they’d have to grow legs, lose the gills, and hit the living tar out of Brady.
On Sunday, the Eagles failed to follow in those footsteps. The defense sacked Brady just one time, but it didn’t matter. They still won the Super Bowl.
Granted, that sack came at the best possible moment. Down five points and just shy of the two-minute warning, Brady was in a familiar position. In moments like these, the universe feels like one giant Rube Goldberg machine, a series of ramps, pulleys, and missed two-point conversions that conspire to provide game-winning Patriots touchdowns.
This time, however, the contraption stalled. The Eagles’ Brandon Graham did what he and his teammates had been trying unsuccessfully to do for the better part of four quarters. He sacked Brady, and the Patriots quarterback fumbled.
For New England, it was a nightmare—the circus-mirror reflection of the infamous tuck rule game from 2002 that launched the Patriots’ dynasty. For anyone who’s had a rooting interest against New England over the past 16 years, it was a case of hilarious karmic retribution.
The Eagles kicked a field goal, held Brady off one last time, and finished off a 41–33 upset victory. It was wondrously bizarre. Now we’ll have to wait and see whether Philadelphia makes it through the night.
Despite his costly fumble, Brady and the Patriots’ offense played one of the most statistically impressive games of all time.
Amazingly, the Eagles found a way to beat the Patriots that was even more aberrant than the route taken by those celebrated Giants teams. It required an MVP performance from a backup quarterback, which Nick Foles coolly delivered. It called for two touchdown catches that were subjected to the dreaded official review and were mercifully upheld.
It was a win that required gutsy fourth-down calls from coach Doug Pederson, including one in the Eagles’ own territory on the fourth quarter drive that gave the Eagles the lead. Philadelphia’s other big fourth-down conversion came at the end of the first half. That time, Pederson called a trick play, a pass to Foles from tight end Trey Burton.
It also required a single sack—the only one from either team all game—delivered at just the right moment. Thanks to Brandon Graham, the Eagles are Super Bowl champions. As for Brady, who threw for 505 yards, the most in Super Bowl history, it’s hard to argue he has ever played a better game. But in the end, the Eagles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Brady will have to console himself with a framed box score. (And his five Super Bowl rings.) (But he lost this time.) (That probably just means he’s going to throw for 600 yards in next year’s Super Bowl.) (Let’s enjoy this while it lasts.)