Tom Brady, Patriots denied a sixth Super Bowl title by bold Eagles
MINNEAPOLIS — The stage was set for another miracle comeback.
But this time, Tom Brady and the Patriots ran out of time — and miracles — and in the end the sting of a Super Bowl loss numbed them like a Minnesota windchill.
Powered by a masterful performance from Nick Foles, Philadelphia cold-cocked the Patriots with a 41-33 victory Sunday night in the frigid North Star State.
Faced with 38-33 deficit with just over two minutes left — sound familiar? – Brady led his troops out for what the 67,612 at U.S. Bank Stadium — and millions more around the world — expected would be the latest chapter in the five-time Super Bowl champion’s career.
The Eagles would have none of it.
On second down, Brandon Graham sacked Brady — the first time the guys in green had gotten to him all night — caused a fumble, and Derek Barnett came up with it.
“They made one great play when they had to,’’ Brady said.
Jake Elliott blasted home a field goal to increase the lead, but the Eagles had left 58 seconds on the clock for Brady to try to pull it off.
Brady got them to midfield, but his Hail Mary wasn’t answered, though a couple of Patriots had at least a fighter’s chance.
“I was close,’’ said Chris Hogan, who had six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. “I was there.’’
Added Amendola, “The ball rattled around a couple of times. I lost it . . . I saw it and didn’t come up with it.’’
When the ball hit the turf in the end zone, it touched off a storm of silver-and-green confetti as the Eagles charged the field.
Brady was brilliant in defeat. The four-time Super Bowl MVP completed 28 of 48 passes for 505 yards (a Super Bowl record) and three touchdowns.
“He’s the greatest,’’ said Danny Amendola, who caught eight passes for a game-high 152 yards. “He’s the best quarterback . . . and I love him.’’
As for Foles? Well, the reigning Super Bowl MVP will never again have to take a back seat to anyone.
The sixth-year journeyman went from backup to starter to Super Bowl hero this season.
Foles was brilliant from the outset, leading his team to scores on his first and final drives. He finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
“I felt calm,’’ said Foles, who took over for Carson Wentz in December when the MVP candidate tore an ACL. “We felt confident coming in and we just went out there and played football. We’ve played this game since we were little kids, we dreamed of this moment.’’
He saved his best for last.
Faced with his first deficit of the game at 33-32, after Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with 4-yard touchdown with 9:22 left, Foles never blinked.
Instead he opened even more eyes, marching his club on a 14-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with an 11-yard TD pass to Zach Ertz for a 38-33 lead and knocked 7:01 off the clock.
As the Brady took the field, he was followed by a bunch of confident teammates. They were as shocked as everyone else when the comeback fell short.
“We practice those situations all the time and we are confident in those situations and we just — we just came up short,’’ said Hogan.
“Disappointing, but I’m proud of the way our team competed,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “We just came up a little bit short. Tough, tough way to end.”
Foles let it be known right off the bat that this moment was not too big for him, leading his club to points on his first two drives.
On the opener, Foles converted a pair of key third downs. He first hit Alshon Jeffery for 17 yards and then Torrey Smith for 15. On both plays, Eric Rowe, who got the start in place of Malcolm Butler, was victimized.
Rowe got a bit of revenge on the next third down, however, swatting away Foles’s toss to Jeffery in the end zone and forcing the Eagles to kick a 25-yard field goal.
The Patriots answered immediately, scoring the first first-quarter Super Bowl points of the Belichick era when Gostkowski sailed home a 26-yarder.
The Eagles went right back to business, however, this time showing off their quick-strike attack.
Old friend LeGarrette Blount got it started with a 36-yard run. The big tailback found a cutback lane and raced through the secondary.
With the Patriots gassed by the run, Foles dropped a 34-yard dime into Jeffery’s hands in the back of the end zone and it was 9-3 before many of the feeling in everyone’s frozen toes began to return.
Rowe had solid coverage on the play but Foles’s pass was perfect and Jeffery’s snag was better.
The Patriots failed to answer on their next drive when Gostkowski’s 26-yard chip shot clanged off the left upright. It was hardly the kicker’s fault, however, as a low snap forced holder Ryan Allen to readjust, throwing the timing of the operation off.
New England held Foles to a three-and-out but again couldn’t capitalize.
The drive had an ominous start. Brady hit Brandin Cooks on a 23-yard catch-and-run but Malcolm Jenkins leveled Cooks at the end of the run. The hit knocked Cooks out of the game with a head injury.
A trick play on a third-and-5 didn’t work when Amendola, who had taken a pitch from James White, tossed a pass that a wide-open Brady couldn’t corral.
Eschewing a 52-yard field goal attempt, the drive ended when Brady’s pass to Gronkowski fell incomplete.
Blount pushed the lead further when he bolted around the left end, found another cutback lane, and rumbled in from the 21 to up Philadelphia’s lead to 15-3. The Eagles went for 2 points but were unsuccessful.
New England then ran off 9 straight points to get back in the game. Gostkowski struck first, nailing a 45-yard field goal.
Duron Harmon’s goal-line interception sparked a seven-play, 90-yard drive that White finished it off with his best run off the season, a bobbing-and-weaving, tackle-breaking, 26-yard scamper through the Eagles defense that cut the deficit to 15-12.
Undaunted by the mini-onslaught, Foles took charge again.
He engineered a textbook two-minute drive, capping the seven-play, 70-yard march by doing what Brady couldn’t — catch a pass.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Doug Pederson made the gutsy call to go for it. With Foles lined up as an H-back, Corey Clement took a direct snap and flipped it to Trey Burton. The tight end waited for Foles to break open and then hit him.
With the “Rocky” theme blaring at a deafening level, Philadelphia took a 22-12 lead and the Patriots looked dazed as they headed to the locker room.
The teams traded haymakers throughout the second half, combining to score on six straight possessions before the Brady strip-sack.
“Both offenses just moved the ball up and down,’’ said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “I’m disappointed. We didn’t make a lot of plays. We had a chance to make a play at the end. It’s disappointing.’’