My eight takes on the eighth Super Bowl for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady:
1. Belichick’s decision to bench Malcolm Butler got most of the attention as the New England Patriots defense was shredded by the Philadelphia Eagles. But it obscured the fact that the Patriots defense wasn’t very good all year, even with Butler. It ranked 30th in pass defense and 29th in yards allowed. If not for Brady carrying the team and the Patriots playing in a weak AFC, it might have caught up with them before the Super Bowl. And who is responsible for putting such a bad defense on the field? Obviously, Bill Belichick, who makes all the decisions. Belichick the personnel guy hasn’t gotten enough good players on defense for Belichick the coach.
2. In my pre-Super Bowl analysis, I said this could be a career-defining moment for Doug Pederson. It was. No matter what he does the rest of his career, he’ll always have Super Bowl 52. And his bold play-calling was a key to the game. But Pederson made a dumb move in the second period when he went for two after the Eagles missed an extra point after their first touchdown. If he had just kicked the extra point, the Eagles would have had a nine-point lead when Brady got the ball back with a minute left. Instead, they only had a one-score eight point lead, and Brady was throwing a Hail Mary pass into the end zone on the final play. Pederson did it again with two minutes left and a five-point lead, but that was understandable. That is what the two-point conversion attempt was designed for. It shouldn’t be tried in the second quarter. And despite his bold play-calling, Pederson got conservative on their final series after the strip sack. He called three running plays and kicked a field goal for an eight-point lead. But that still meant it was a on- score game. Why not let Foles throw and go for the touchdown to ice the game right there? Giving the ball back to Brady with a one score lead in the final minute is always risky.
3. Of all the pre-game analysis, one of the best comments was made by Warren Sharp of @sharpfootball. He noted the Patriots were vulnerable to the Eagles running from 11 personnel (three wides) formation. And they were. It shows how bad the Patriots defense was that Belichick, the noted defensive genius, couldn’t come up with a way to stop it because it wasn’t exactly a surprise that the Eagles kept running from that formation.
4. Al Riveron, the league’s new director of officials, had a rough year. He kept overturning calls on the field that seemed to change what instant replay was supposed to do: correct obvious mistakes. And the two men who sat in his chair before him, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, often criticized his calls. But Riveron got it right when he let two touchdown catches by the Eagles stand. There should have been no doubt they would stand, but Riveron’s puzzling decisions all year left fans wondering if he would overturn them. On the first one, the ball in Corey Clement’s hands made a slight move. Not enough to overturn, but Riveron had overturned similar plays. And on the Zach Ertz game-winning touchdown pass, he was clearly a runner after catching the ball so it was a touchdown once he crossed the plane of the goal line even though he then lost the ball. Riveron saved the league a lot of controversy by not overturning either call as he did on similar plays during the year. But the NFL still needs to revisit the catch rule in the offseason because nobody knows what a catch is these days and somebody needs to explain to Riveron that only obvious mistakes should be overturned.
5. Forget all this talk about trading Nick Foles. Carson Wentz will be coming back from a torn ACL suffered late in the year so nobody knows for sure when he will be ready to go. Foles once again proved the backup QB is the second-most important player on a team. The Eagles have to keep him as an insurance policy.
6. Kudos to Eagles football boss Howie Roseman, who lost a power struggle with Chip Kelly and was kicked upstairs to an executive vice president’s position, but didn’t quit and made a number of shrewd moves – including re-signing Foles — as he cleaned up the mess that Kelly left behind and built a Super Bowl-winning team.
7. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s wife, is still remembered for saying after the Patriots’ last Super Bowl loss that her husband couldn’t throw the ball and catch it, too. But she was gracious after this loss, telling her children the Eagles had never won and sometimes you have to let the other team win. The word let probably wasn’t the best in that context, but she later clarified her remarks and said teams win on merit and that nobody “let” anyone win. Reporters also said she congratulated Eagle players she ran into after the game. And she posted a nice Instagram post congratulating the Eagles and lauding her husband.
8. The conventional wisdom before the game was that the way to beat the Patriots was to put the heat on Brady the way the New York Giants did in their two victories over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It turned out the Eagles had a different way – outscore them. Brady passed for 505 yards, put 33 points on the scoreboard and still lost as he was sacked only once although the strip sack at the end was a key play of the game. But Brady often had more than enough time to throw. It didn’t matter because the Eagles scored 41 points.