By Jason Keidel
The NFL has this slightly irritating tradition of using Roman numerals to label each Super Bowl. Since most Americans stopped taking Latin 50 years ago, and many consider it a dead language altogether, it’s merely an eyesore of consonants when two numbers will do.
But you might need new ciphers to count the number of records broken last night in Super Bowl LII. Indeed, according to a piece on CBSSports.com, an absurd 17 records fell during the Eagles’ 41-33 upset of the Patriots in Minneapolis yesterday. In fact, the piece asserts that 29 records were either tied or broken during a sometimes sloppy but classic Super Bowl.
We can start with Tom Brady’s 505 passing yards. (In fact, Brady tied or broke seven records by himself.) We can continue with the 600 combined yards in the first half. How about the combined 874 passing yards? We can focus on zero — the number of time the Pats punted all game. Or the number one — the total number of punts the entire game. How about the 1,151 total yards from the two teams — a record for any Super Bowl, playoff game, or any game in NFL history that counts in the standings? You get the drift, so we can end the count with a quirky stat and the number four — the amount of PAT conversions missed by both teams.
So you get it. The gridiron aesthetics were more Arena League than National Football League. The dearth of defense was a bit pungent. Or was it the advanced skill of each offense? Likely a combination thereof. Either way, the Eagles not only beat the Patriots, but beat them at their game — with a aerial assault that stunned the opposing defenses.
Even more so, the Eagles were the more aggressive team, taking the chances that had become a Belichick trademark. Philly embraced fourth down, going for the yards, the points, and the jugular. At the end of the first half, they eschewed a surefire field goal, and didn’t even snap the ball to their quarterback. Two seconds later, Nick Foles became the first quarterback to catch a TD pass in a Super Bowl. It did more than add six points; it sent a message. Unlike the Falcons, who rolled the Pats to a 28-3 drubbing in the third quarter, then turtled into eternity, the Eagles kept the boot on Belichick’s throat. For perhaps the first time in 20 years, Bill Belichick was clearly out-coached in an NFL playoff game. Kudos to Doug Pederson, who won that game way more than the Pats lost it.
The reason yours truly picked the Eagles to win this game was pretty facile. The Eagles, at least on paper, had the better club. And they were playing better entering the Super Bowl. They were hungrier and happier to be there. Indeed, Tom Brady made a curious statement hours before the game. The iconic QB — whose bronze bust is assured five years to the second after he retires — said for the first time, he wasn’t anxious or nervous, that this was just a regular game to him.
You can cut that sentiment two ways. It either speaks to Brady’s ethereal cool, that his low-key countenance in the biggest games allows him to focus and renders him fearless when most players let the moment devour them. Or, you can say that Brady’s calm reflected the club’s lethargy, or at least lack of urgency. Either way, it seemed obvious from the jump that the Eagles played with more fervor and focus and the perfect amount of desperation.
Had someone told you that Brady had thrown for 500 yards, three touchdowns, had three receivers amass over 100 yards, and never summoned the punter all game, no one would have picked his opponent to win this game. But in a game that saw some offensive defense, the Eagles made the one defensive play that mattered, that turned the game, and, in essence, won the game.
That would be the sack, strip, and fumble recovery that allowed the Eagles to inch another three points ahead, going up by eight with a minute left. The Pats, who had no timeouts, made a bizarre play on the ensuing kickoff, trying an odd reverse handoff inside their own 10-yard line, which was blown up, keeping the Pats 91 yards from the end zone with fewer than 91 seconds left to get there.
Even still, with Brady, nearly all is possible, if not probable, in the biggest games. He somehow got the Pats within a Hail Mary of a TD. The last play was quintessential GOAT stuff, with Brady slipping a sack, sliding forward, and heaving a ball high into the air, joining the bright lights for a moment before floating down into the end zone, where it pinballed around, and almost found the eager arms of Phillip Dorsett before bouncing harmlessly onto the turf.
So you could say the Pats were one play from tying the game, or that the Eagles made it nearly impossible to make said play. The Patriots fell short of back-to-back come-from-behind Super Bowl wins. And for the first time in history, the Lombardi Trophy is coming to the Eagles, the only team to beat Vince Lombardi in an NFL championship game.
We don’t need Roman numerals to calculate the score, who the better team was, or who the Super Bowl champion is.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.