“They gave Brady too much time.”
That was the one thought that flashed across more than one hundred million minds on Sunday night as the Eagles scored the go-ahead touchdown to give them a five-point lead with 2:21 left. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz made a leaping run and catch into the end zone (with some added drama from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth debating whether it was a catch), but the score gave Tom Brady the ball back with the two-minute warning and a timeout in his pocket. Football fans know how that story usually ends.
The greatest quarterback in the history of football, with 11 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his playoff career, was now vying for his 12th. The stage was set for the Brady drive to end all Brady drives: He had logged 400 passing yards before the third quarter ended. His offense hadn’t punted. As he trotted onto the field for the likely final drive, the ending of this game felt prewritten.
Nobody told any of that to Philly defensive end Brandon Graham.
The Eagles’ first sack of the game could not have possibly come at a better time. On second-and-2 with 2:16 left in the game, the Eagles’ $26 million pass rusher drove Pats right guard Shaq Mason into the backfield, tossed him aside, and made the strip sack of his—and every Philadelphia fan’s—life.
The Patriots’ claim to a sixth Super Bowl slipped from Brady’s hand like it’d been lathered in Crisco. The Eagles turned that strip sack into a field goal to push the lead lead to eight, though they gave the Pats one more chance to drive the length of the field for a touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion. The air of inevitability had been punctured, but Brady still had 65 seconds to tie the game. He went from nearly taking a safety to completing enough quick outside passes to put the Pats in position for a last gasp heave to the end zone. For 30 NFL teams, a Hail Mary is a prayer, but for the Patriots it’s within their earthly arsenal.
After star quarterback Carson Wentz went down in Week 14 with an ACL tear, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s message to his team was: “An individual can make a difference. A team can make a miracle.” The underdog™ Eagles, an afterthought entering the season and an afterthought entering the playoffs without Wentz, didn’t make their own miracle as much as they prevented the Patriots from using their own magic. Philly won Super Bowl LII, the first in franchise history, 41-33.
The Brady-Belichick postseason dominance began against Oakland when a would-be strip sack by Charles Woodson was undone by the infamous tuck rule. Sixteen years later, a strip sack—one that counted this time—could serve as a fitting bookend to New England’s dynasty. On Sunday night, the Eagles achieved the rarest feat in modern NFL history: slaying the Brady dragon.