But in a championship game that featured 1,151 total yards (874 passing), 74 points and one punt, the Eagles made three defensive stops that were every bit as valuable as their quarterback throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 41-33 win over the Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The most obvious stop came with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left. Star left defensive end Brandon Graham saw a rare single block, beat the tackle around the end and …
“Tom Brady just happened to be there,” Graham said. “I swiped at the ball, hit it, knocked it loose and changed the game.”
Boy, did he.
That was the only sack in the game. But, knowing Brady, it meant the difference between the Eagles hanging on and Brady winning a sixth Super Bowl and a fifth Super Bowl MVP with another record 505 yards passing.
“BG made a great play, the play of the game,” said rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, the guy who recovered the fumble, not to mention the guy the Eagles drafted in the first round with the pick they got in the Sam Bradford trade with the Vikings.
“I was just lucky. It was a good break. The ball bounced right to me.”
The ball never bounces against Brady. At least not when he isn’t playing title games against the Giants.
“I’m sure people watching at home were like, ‘Where’s that Philly pass rush?’ ” said defensive end Chris Long. “Well, that’s where it was, right there at the end.”
The other defensive plays will be forgotten before long. But they put the Eagles in position to win at the end.
While the story of the first half was the offensive explosion — 673 yards and 13 plays of 20 or more yards — the Patriots went 0-for-2 in the red zone on their first two possessions.
The first time, they trailed 3-0 and had third-and-4 at the Philly 8-yard line. Brady spotted humongous tight end Rob Gronkowski at the goal line. He fired the ball. But the much smaller cornerback Jalen Mills was there to break up the pass.
The Patriots settled for a field goal from 26 yards. The Patriots just don’t settle for field goals in Super Bowls, right?
“We never really got control of the game,” Brady said. “We never played the game on our terms. Somebody needed to make a couple plays, and the Eagles did.”
The Patriots wouldn’t be so lucky as to settle for a field goal in their next trip into the red zone.
Now trailing 9-3, they had third-and-2 at the Eagles 9-yard line. This time, the Patriots tried a jet sweep to little speedster receiver Brandin Cooks.
“We practiced that look a lot because it’s something they like to do,” said safety Rodney McLeod.
Cooks is 5-10. McLeod also is 5-10. When McLeod broke down to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage, Cooks tried to hurdle him.
“I’m not sure what made him think he could hurdle me,” McLeod said. “It surprised me, but it was a bad decision on his part because I had to pick him up and slam him down.”
Had McLeod been hurdled at that moment and the Patriots won, the image would have been replayed on Super Bowl highlight shows for the rest of his life. And beyond.
“I know, and I’ve been hurdled before,” he said. “My second year, Vernon Davis hurdled me. But he’s like 6-5 or something.”
McLeod dropped Cooks for a 1-yard gain. The Patriots lined up for another 26-yarder, but a bad snap led to the ball clanging no good off the upright.
So, in two series, Brady had the ball inside the Eagles 10-yard line and came away with three points. No one will remember that from the offensive explosion we all witnessed. But those plays kept the Eagles in control of the game until the Patriots took their one and only lead, 33-32, early in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t give up, even when it’s Tom Brady,” Barnett said. “You’ve got to be ready for that time when he doesn’t make the play.”
Before defensive tackle Fletcher Cox left the podium, he was asked if he still felt like an underdog after being favored to lose all three postseason games.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We feel more like world champions.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org