Hard as it is to believe, Patriots lost to a better team


Tom Brady and the Patriots failed in their bid for a record-tying sixth Super Bowl win.

By Globe Columnist 

MINNEAPOLIS — There was no incredible Patriots comeback this time. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had the Patriots in position to shock the world once again, but on this night there was no crucial call overturned by video review, no Tuck Rule, no goofy decision from the rival sideline, no fanboy judge or league official to flip the script in favor of the Patriots in the final seconds.

Hard as it is to believe, the Patriots lost the Super Bowl Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium and they lost to the better team. Philadelphia’s backup quarterback, Nick Foles, had the right stuff and second-year coach Doug Pederson outfoxed The Hoodie as the championship-starved Eagles won their first Super Bowl, a 41-33 pinball special against the mighty Patriots.


It was a thoroughly entertaining 60 minutes with a flurry of touchdown passes and unstoppable offenses. Brady — the greatest of all time — was still slinging at the finish and the game was not officially over until his final nearly 60-yard heave bounced off a bunch of hands and onto the Patriot logo in the end zone. For the first time in a long time, New England’s Hail Mary went unanswered.

Brady threw for three touchdowns and a Super Bowl-record 505 yards, and he brought his team back from a 10-point second-half deficit once again, just as he did in the last two Super Bowls and January’s AFC Championship game. We all assumed there was one more game-winning surge coming from QB12, but New England’s last real chance (trailing, 38-33) was smothered when Brady was stripped of the football by a couple of Philly fatties deep in Patriots territory with just over two minutes left in the game.

It was not Tom vs. Time. It was Tom vs. Philadelphia. And the Eagles pulled off the upset.

After weeks of mocking Patriots opponents we have seen the Tomato Cans and they are . . . the members of the Patriots’ defense.

The Patriots trailed for almost the entire game. The contest featured only one punt (Philadelphia), and the teams amassed more than 1,100 yards of total offense.


In the end, New England’s spoiled fans should not take this one too hard. Most football observers would agree that the Patriots this season were somewhat artificially enlarged by a weak conference and a playoff run that steered clear of teams that might have given them trouble. The Patriots’ path to the Super Bowl featured home playoff games against quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) and Blake Bortles (Jacksonville), and it looked like this good fortune would continue when Philly showed up without its star quarterback, Carson Wentz. Wentz blew out his knee in December, which thrust twice-released, once-traded journeyman Foles into the spotlight.

Foles delivered, completing 28 of 43 passes and throwing for three touchdowns.

Pederson, meanwhile, was every bit as bold as Belichick. Maybe more. With his team trailing, 33-32, with 5:39 left, he eschewed the punt and went for a first down on a fourth and 1 from his 45-yard line. Foles completed a short pass to tight end Zach Ertz for the first down. It is a play that will go down in Philadelphia history.

The Patriots lost because their defense — disguised as a bend-but-don’t-break unit all season — was terrible. In the Super Bowl we saw the same Swiss cheese unit that coughed up 42 points to the Chiefs on opening night in September.

Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, was benched, a controversial Belichick decision bound to live in infamy. We saw a lot of Eric Rowe, Jordan Richards, and Johnson Bademosi arm tackling and getting scalded by Foles.

Watch: Bill Belichick comments on not putting Malcolm Butler on the field

Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, set to be announced as Lions coach this week, delivered one last party line regarding Butler: “We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win.”


Ever-gracious Belichick said the decision was strictly a football move. Nothing to do with discipline.

“I made the decisions that gave us the best chance to win,’’ he told NBC.


Also absent for most of the game was Patriots deep threat Brandin Cooks, who left the game with a head injury after taking a vicious hit early in the second quarter.

Everything seemed to be going New England’s way leading up to game time The Patriots were 4½-point favorites and most of the country had little faith in Foles and Pederson vs. Brady and Belichick. Even the venue seemed to favor the Patriots.

Situated in the middle of a migratory bird pathway, U.S. Bank Stadium’s unique architecture and reflective glass make it a death trap for birds who mistake the edifice for open sky. It’s a serious problem being studied by local environmentalists. Not to get all metaphoric on you, but could there have been a more fitting stadium site for the extinction of the 2017 Eagles?

It did not come to pass as Philly scored early and often on the Patriots’ porous defense.

Still, the Patriots had faced double-digit deficits in four playoff games since 2015 and won every time. Twice the Patriots trailed the Ravens by 14 points in a divisional-round game at Gillette in January 2015. New England won, 35-31. They fell behind Seattle, 24-14, in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, rallied for two late touchdowns, then stuffed the Seahawks at the goal line when Pete Carroll lost his mind at the finish. The Patriots famously trailed, 28-3, in last year’s Super Bowl before winning in overtime. Two weeks ago, New England trailed the Jaguars, 20-10, in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game but rallied for a pair of late touchdowns and a trip to Super Bowl LII.

We have come to expect nothing less. There is no need to worry because the Patriots have Belichick and Brady and good karma. They can merely stay the course and wait for the enemy to make mistakes.

It did not happen on this night.

Late in the first half, Pederson made a gutsy call that paid off. The Philly coach went for it on fourth and goal from the 1 and was rewarded when third-string tight end Trey Burton feathered a touchdown pass to an uncovered Foles. Foles in that moment became the only player in Super Bowl history to throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game. It no doubt would have made Gisele proud.

“Philly special,’’ Pederson called it.

That’s the kind of play the Patriots have used to trick their opponents through the years.

Not Sunday. Not in cold, bold Minnesota. Not against the Eagles.

So the Patriots are going to have to wait another year if they want to tie Pittsburgh with a sixth Lombardi Trophy. We expect Brady and Belichick and Bob Kraft all back to make it happen.

But there will be no duck boat parade this week.

Truck Day is Monday if it makes anybody feel better.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist He can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.