Every week this NFL season, we’ve celebrated the electric plays, admonished the colossal blunders, and explained the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to the Super Bowl edition of Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: The Unexpected
I knew how the Super Bowl was going to end. The Philadelphia Eagles scored to take a 38-33 lead on the New England Patriots with 2:21 remaining, just as so many Patriots opponents had made seemingly meaningful plays late in so many other Super Bowls. I thought those 141 seconds left on the clock were Tom Brady’s time.
Instead, the things I never thought possible happened. Brady, who had never committed a turnover in the final five minutes of a Super Bowl, got strip-sacked:
EAGLES WIN THE SUPER BOWL IN AN EPIC GAME!!!!— TITANIC TD (@TitanicTD) February 5, 2018
BRANDON GRAHAM'S LATE STRIP-SACK ON TOM BRADY IS EVEN BETTER WITH TITANIC MUSIC!!! WHAT A PLAY!!!
It was the first sack of the game by either team, and the most important play of the game. An Eagles field goal and a botched Patriots Hail Mary later, the Eagles were Super Bowl champions.
The Eagles, the team with zero Super Bowls, pulled out the win over the Patriots. Nick Foles, the backup quarterback who didn’t take over until Carson Wentz’s knee injury in Week 14, earned Super Bowl MVP honors. This Super Bowl was a win for weirdness, a reminder that anything can happen in this strange sport.
Loser: The Detroit Lions
It isn’t official yet, but it’s been widely reported for weeks now that Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will leave the organization to become the next head coach of the Detroit Lions. On the surface level, it seems like a great hire, because Patricia has been a part of the Patriots’ coaching staff since 2004, contributing in a variety of ways to the most consistently great organization in football history.
But what’s likely to be Patricia’s last game with New England was an absolutely brutal one. The Eagles went for 538 yards on 7.6 yards per play, the 12th-highest yards-per-play total of any team in any regular-season or postseason game this year. New England forced one punt and wrangled one fluky turnover. Philadelphia converted on 10 of 16 third downs and additionally converted twice on two fourth-down attempts. Even though New England actually played exceptionally on offense—Tom Brady set a record for the most passing yardage in a Super Bowl, throwing for 505 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions—the Pats lost. The Patriots’ 613 yards are the most any team has ever gained in a loss in the history of the NFL, regular season or postseason.
Patricia’s defense performed so poorly that a team with Tom Brady at quarterback lost to a team with Nick Foles at quarterback. Congrats on your new head coach, Detroit.
Winner: Nick Foles, Wide Receiver
In the second quarter, the Patriots ran a trick play on which Danny Amendola threw a pass to Tom Brady. The QB had caught passes before—in fact, one of his two career catches came on a pass from Amendola against the Eagles. But apparently Brady’s incredible fight against age has not prevented his hands from turning to stone:
Brady’s wife Gisele yelled after Super Bowl XLVI that Brady could not throw and catch the ball at the same time, a knock on Patriots pass catchers who made critical drops in that Super Bowl loss. Turns out she was right!
Anyway, click that above link showing Amendola’s previous throw to Brady against the Eagles. Now watch this play, a touchdown pass from Eagles tight end Trey Burton to Nick Foles:
It’s the exact same play. According to Eagles coaches and players, they called it “the Philly Special.” It’s beautiful that the Eagles successfully ran a play that the Patriots had previously run against them, and it’s beautiful that Foles got to prove that he had better hands than his quarterbacking counterpart.
Loser: The Patriots’ Typically Perfect Special Teams
The New England Patriots have started two kickers (aside from a temporary injury replacement in 2010) since special teams obsessive Bill Belichick became head coach; they both rank in the top 15 all time in field goal accuracy. In his time with the team, Adam Vinatieri hit two game-winning field goals in the last 10 seconds of the Super Bowl; there has been only one other such kick in the history of the game. His successor, Stephen Gostkowski, was 3-for-3 on Super Bowl field goals in his career. When they get to the biggest stage, the Pats know they can count on their kicking game.
But that wasn’t the case on Sunday night: Gostkowski missed an extra point, and a bad snap and bad hold led to Gostkowski doinking a 26-yard chip shot:
That’s four points left on the field on relatively easy kicks, extremely uncharacteristic for the Patriots.
Winner: Every Eagles Fan, Everywhere
Sunday was my first time covering the Super Bowl in person, so at first I didn’t think much of the fact every Eagles cheer in the stadium was significantly louder than every Patriots cheer. But the more I talked to people who routinely cover this contest, the more I realized that the audience tends to be pretty 50-50. The Philly fans, with their dog heads, omnipresent fight song, and extremely enthusiastic spelling of their team name, ensured that this didn’t really feel like a neutral-site game.
But, of course, only a select few Eagles fans made it to Minnesota. The rest are currently climbing light poles:
And jumping off things that shouldn’t be jumped off of:
Eagles fans are taking “Fly Eagles Fly” a liiiiiiiittle too literally pic.twitter.com/1y4Zt2Y9zG— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 5, 2018
And standing on things that shouldn’t be stood upon:
The Ritz canopy has collapsed pic.twitter.com/9LBolLtIPY— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) February 5, 2018
(As it turns out, the thing that shouldn’t be jumped off of and the thing that shouldn’t be stood upon were the same thing.)
Generally filling every inch of the center of their city:
And … uh … well …
No....don’t eat the horse shit...don’t do it.....YOU ARE BETTER THAN TH...oh no pic.twitter.com/NfyES9sjp0— Laces Out (@LacesOutShow) February 5, 2018
The Eagles’ fan base is widely considered one of the sport’s strongest despite the team, um, never ever ever ever ever ever winning a Super Bowl before this. That sort of passion in the face of that level of futility is not typical. What happened against the Patriots isn’t, either, and Eagles fans seem to appreciate that.
Loser: Justin Timberlake
Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime show was OK. That’s the rudest thing you can say about a Super Bowl halftime show: They’re supposed to be over-the-top tours de force. Timberlake’s was all right.
The lasting memory of it will be this kid:
On the night he was supposed to be the center of the world’s attention, Timberlake could not capture this child’s attention. Timberlake’s journey up into the stands was supposed to fill the surprised fans around him with unbridled joy. Meme Boy was not excited or upset; just seemingly unimpressed. Eventually, he cracked a smile and took a selfie with Timberlake, but the damage had already been done. One of the most successful musicians on the planet had his biggest show ever derailed by one bored teen.
Winner: Smart Fourth-and-1 Decisions
That doinked Gostkowski field goal referenced earlier came on fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line. Sure, Gostkowski hits that field goal 99 times out of 100, but analytics say teams should generally go for it on fourth-and-1 within your opponent’s 10-yard line. The worst-case scenario is a failed play and terrible field position for the opponent, and most teams pick up fourth-and-1 more often than not.
Meanwhile, the Eagles faced fourth-and-1 twice, and went for it both times: One was the touchdown pass to Foles, the other was a pass to Zach Ertz that kept the team’s go-ahead fourth-quarter scoring drive alive. Belichick doesn’t get outcoached much, but his fourth-and-1 decision hurt his team, and both of Doug Pederson’s fourth-and-1 decisions helped his.
Loser: Head Safety
The Patriots lost their best wide receiver during the Super Bowl. Brandin Cooks led New England in targets and barely trailed Rob Gronkowski in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns this season, and made one of the first big plays of the Super Bowl for the Patriots, busting loose for a big reception. But as he tried to break free, he lost track of all the defenders behind him and essentially ran right into a steamrolling Malcolm Jenkins.
Cooks spent several minutes motionless on the ground and was almost immediately ruled out for the rest of the game with a head injury. But Jenkins’s hit wasn’t dirty: He wasn’t head-hunting, and he didn’t aim to make contact high on Cooks’s body. Yet he still hit the living hell out of him, and I can’t imagine any rule that would make Jenkins’s hit illegal that wouldn’t essentially outlaw tackling. The hit on Cooks and his subsequent injury served as a reminder that perfectly legal hits can cause the types of terrifying injuries that the NFL claims it can eliminate from the game, and it happened with the largest audience of the year watching.
Winner: Eli Manning
With a crowd composed of some Philadelphians, some New Englanders, and some Minnesotans, there was very little agreement about which celebrity Jumbotron sightings would receive cheers. I still haven’t figured out why the crowd booed Steph Curry, one of the most popular athletes on the planet, whose Warriors have never had a significant rivalry with Philly or Boston.
But all parties booed Eli Manning, who participated in a pregame ceremony honoring J.J. Watt as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Pats fans hate him for his two Super Bowl wins against New England; Eagles fans hate him because of the NFC East rivalry with the Giants.
Which is why it’s amazing that Manning also got one of the biggest cheers of the night. The one commercial from the television broadcast shown live in the stadium was an NFL spot in which Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. reenact the scene from Dirty Dancing.
The commercial seems to have been generally received as the best of an awkward crop. It was so good that even all the Manning haters in U.S. Bank Stadium cheered.