Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 5, 2018

Two Trick Plays Tell The Tale

A NOTE TO READERS: As previously advised, this post is one day late. The regular schedule resumes on Thursday. As always, thanks for reading!

As the Super Bowl morphed into a wild offensive shootout, perhaps the die was cast as the third quarter was ending. That’s when the best commercial of the night aired. It was a spot for the NFL itself, featuring Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., in a hilarious parody of the final scene from the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing.” Surely when they saw it the citizens of Patriots Nation quailed. For they know that with all that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have accomplished, the two always come up short in the Super Bowl when Eli Manning is around.

For those who scoff at such symbolism, the critical moment arrived a bit later, just as clocks in New England were striking ten on Sunday night. Quarterback Brady led the Patriots offense onto the field with 2:21 left to play in Super Bowl LII and his team trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 38-33. Both offenses had scored freely from the start. The Eagles led by ten points at the half, but the Patriots rallied to claim a one-point lead at 33-32, only to see Nick Foles drive Philadelphia down the field, with a key fourth down conversion pass to Zach Ertz, before he found Ertz again from eleven yards out to put his team back on top.

Time after time over Brady’s career Patriots fans have watched him work his late game magic, most recently just two weeks ago when he rallied New England to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Conference Championship. Surely TB12 would do so again, claiming a sixth title in eight tries for head coach Belichick and himself.

Still as the Patriots came to the line, one couldn’t help but think back to two plays in the first half. Two plays that were virtually identical in structure but, by the slightest of margins, utterly different in result.

The first of the two came with just over twelve minutes remaining in the second quarter and Philadelphia leading 9-3. Starting from their own 37-yard line, the Patriots quickly drove to the Eagles’ 35. From the shotgun Brady took the snap and handed off to running back James White, who sprinted left. White in turn flipped the ball to Danny Amendola who was coming back to the right side. The play appeared to be a reverse run around the right end. But as attention turned elsewhere Brady had first drifted out of the backfield before running into the right flat. Amendola lofted a pass to his quarterback, who was wide open near the right sideline. It was a decent toss over Brady’s left shoulder, perhaps the slightest bit high. Brady reached up and the football grazed his fingertips before falling to the earth. One play later a fourth down pass went incomplete and New England turned the ball over on downs.

Little more than eleven minutes later by the game clock, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-goal at the Patriots 1-yard line. With the half nearing its end, Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson boldly eschewed taking the virtually certain three points of a chip shot field goal, instead calling his own trick play. After lining up in the shotgun quarterback Nick Foles moved over behind the right tackle. The snap went to running back Corey Clement who sprinted left. Clement in turn handed the ball to Trey Burton who was coming back to the right side. The play appeared to be a reverse run around the right end. But as attention turned elsewhere Foles had raced into the right flat. Burton lofted a pass to his quarterback, who was wide open at the goal line. It was a decent toss to Foles, who had turned around to face the ball. Foles reached up and corralled the football for a touchdown.

It would be wrong to suggest that those two plays decided Super Bowl LII. With both defenses on their heels for virtually the entire contest, there were any number of big plays and plenty of fireworks. But if they did not decide it, their results surely defined this edition of the Big Game.

There was the 40-year old Brady, who just one day earlier became the oldest player to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award when he was voted his third, reaching for but not quite able to grasp the football at a critical moment. A short time later there was Foles, more than a decade younger, easily reaching up and grabbing a touchdown toss. On a daring call by his coach it was a catch that padded his team’s lead by a quarterback who lost the starting job during his first stint wearing an Eagles uniform and then drifted to two other franchises before returning to Philadelphia, always as a backup.

One couldn’t help but remember those two plays, as the Patriots offense came to the line. On first down Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski near the right sideline for eight yards. But on the next play Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham broke around the outside of New England’s offensive line and strip-sacked Brady, and Graham’s teammates pounced on the loose football. The ten o’clock chimes were still echoing, and New England’s quarterback was sitting on the turf, elbows on his knees, the comeback that everyone anticipated over before it could get started.

Somehow the final two minutes of this Super Bowl would include thirteen more plays from scrimmage. There was a Philadelphia field goal and ensuing kickoff, and a last desperate New England drive that ended with a Hail Mary pass from Brady that did not have a Doug Flutie ending. But that was all anticlimax. The result was writ large by the sight of Tom Terrific sitting on the field as the Eagles celebrated their fumble recovery.

What will be forgotten over time is just how well Brady, but for the muffed reception, played in this game. Foles was named the contest’s MVP, but only once in Super Bowl history has a player on the losing team been given that award. By the numbers the New England quarterback was the best player on the field. He threw for a Super Bowl record 505 yards, finishing 28 for 48 with 3 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 115.4. The two teams combined to set seventeen Super Bowl records and tie twelve more. Six of the new standards and one of the ties were records for an individual player rather than a coach, a team, or the two teams combined. All seven of those were set by Brady. It was a vintage performance, except for the final score.

That outcome was presaged by the results of those two first half trick plays. Together they reminded fans that in sports, as in life, reputation and overall performance do not guarantee an outcome. The thrill of our games stems in no small part from their unpredictability, and the way in which they can produce unlikely stars.

Or maybe it was Eli.


  1. A fine summary of the game, Mike. At game time I didn’t care which team would end up winning the contest, I was just hoping for a hard-fought, close game. Nailed it!

    The two trick plays were certainly a bit of tit-for-tat and demonstrated that the Eagles were in it to win it. In the big games it seems that it always comes down to one individual rising up and making a key play, like stripping the ball from Brady’s hand in the last two minutes.

    I enjoyed the game a lot from that perspective, The Lioness was not amused. She’s a die-hard New Englander and Pats fan. There’s always next year…

    • Thanks Allan. For NE there is certainly next year, though the internal intrigue after the game, both good and bad (Josh McDaniels deciding to stay, the whole weird Malcolm Butler business) makes it clear that there are a lot of conflicting dynamics going on in Foxborough right now.


      Michael Cornelius

      • Time will tell. Thanks, Mike.

  2. Really nice! When it was over, those two plays were, to me, what determined the outcome.



    • Thanks and agreed, plus they lined up so perfectly together it was almost surreal.


      Michael Cornelius

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