They traded blows in a duel that shattered records Sunday and will spur retrospective later, the five-time champion and the serendipitous starter trading touchdown drives like Tiger Woods and Bob May swapping birdies at Valhalla.
That Tom Brady did not win his sixth Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium ultimately will not do much to tarnish his legacy. Not after a game in which the 40-year-old threw for 505 yards, setting a Super Bowl record for passing yards in four quarters a year after he needed five to do it.
Still, 16 years after Brady entered the NFL’s pantheon of champions as a former backup who made the plays to deny a former Super Bowl winner another Lombardi Trophy, Nick Foles strode by him and burst through the same door.
Foles threw for 373 yards, overcoming his only interception and conjuring up two of his three passing touchdowns in the second half, as the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots 41-33.
It was the Eagles’ first Super Bowl title and their first NFL championship since 1960. The loss dropped the Patriots to 5-3 in Super Bowls since they began their remarkable run with Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
“We’ve played this game since we were little kids; we dreamed about this moment,” said Foles, who was named the MVP of the game. “There’s plenty of kids watching this game right now dreaming about this moment and someday will be here.”
They’ve grown up idolizing Hall of Famers such as Joe Montana and Dan Marino in the western half of Pennsylvania, and Super Bowl quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in the area around Philadelphia. But the dreams of the state’s future quarterbacks now have a template in what Foles acomplished — after taking over after starter Carson Wentz tore ligaments in his right knee Dec. 10 — absorbing the strikes of a great champion in Brady and steadying themselves to register the final blow.
They’ll even dream, in the most fanciful twist of the night, of lining up at quarterback and catching a touchdown pass, as Foles did at the end of the second quarter on a play the Eagles derived from one the Chicago Bears used against the Vikings in Week 17 of the 2016 season.
The “Philly Special,” as offensive coordinator Frank Reich called it, had tight end Trey Burton taking a handoff on a reverse and throwing a 1-yard score to Foles, who became the first player in Super Bowl history to post passing and receiving touchdowns in the same game. The score put the Eagles up 22-12 late in the first half, after the Patriots had tried their own pass to Brady in the second quarter.
“We were thinking about running it [in the NFC Championship Game],” Reich said. “But we wondered, ‘Could we run it against the Vikings after the Bears had already run it against them a year before?’ We were ready to run it, but the opportunity didn’t come up and we didn’t need it. It probably worked out best to hold it.
“What a gutty call, but that epitomizes [coach] Doug [Pederson]. You’ve got to put a lot of trust in your players, and that’s Doug. He trusted the call, and he trusted the players to execute it.”
With 2:35 remaining in the third quarter, the teams already had combined for a Super Bowl record in yards, surpassing the 929 from the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII.
As the game moved into the fourth, it entered a realm that Brady has owned for the better part of two decades. The 42-yard field goal Jake Elliott kicked at the beginning of the fourth quarter, at the end of a drive scuttled by a Foles pass to Nelson Agholor that lost 8 yards, seemed like it might be the Eagles’ biggest mistake.
It put Philadelphia up by only six, creating an opening for Brady to direct the Patriots to a lead for the first time. The three-time league MVP snatched it with an efficiency that would have been stunning if not for seven Super Bowls’ worth of precedent.
He completed five of his six passes for 52 yards on the Patriots’ 75-yard march, throwing a 4-yard pass to the back corner of the end zone so sublime that all two Eagles defenders could do was watch tight end Rob Gronkowski cradle it for a score that put the Patriots up 33-32 after Stephen Gostkowski’s extra point.
Foles, though, found an answer again.
He drilled Ertz for an 11-yard touchdown, and for the second time, a replay review upheld the touchdown, finding that Ertz had established himself as a runner before lunging for the end zone and losing the ball on the ground after he’d crossed the goal line.
In a game that had gone more than 57 minutes without a sack, an Eagles defensive line that helped Philadelphia lead the NFL in quarterback pressures struck the blow that felled Brady, with Brandon Graham’s strip sack.
The tuck rule that famously helped start the Patriots’ dynasty wasn’t there for Brady this time, and Derek Barnett — the rookie whom the Eagles drafted with the first-round pick they acquired from the Vikings in the Sam Bradford trade — recovered the loose ball, setting up a field goal that put Philadelphia up eight with 1:05 to go.
Brady moved the Patriots to their own 38, dodging pressure in time to heave one final prayer to the end zone. As the ball fell incomplete, U.S. Bank Stadium went silent for half a beat, as if to fully process the fact Brady didn’t have one more lightning bolt.
“I thought they caught it or something,” Graham said. “Everybody was screaming like they caught the ball at the end. Next thing you know, I see everybody running on the field, and I was like, ‘Wow, we won.’ ”
They did — because Foles, on this night, got the better of the greatest.