The New England Patriots have a tried and true formula for winning football games. Defensively, bend but don’t break. Don’t give up huge plays. Play great red zone defense. Understand key situations and win in these moments. The final piece is not making stupid mistakes as coaches or players. With Tom Brady executing this strategy offensively and perhaps the greatest mind in the history of the game as their head coach, this strategy has been very successful. In Super Bowl LII the Philadelphia Eagles flipped the script on the Patriots. The Patriots’ defense missed tackles left and right creating big-play opportunities for the Eagles. The Eagles won key situations more often than the Patriots and even when they lost in these situations, they found a way to immediately rebound. Here are eight key situations that impacted the outcome of the game.
Patriots Ball – 3rd and 2 on the Eagles’ 9 – 15:00 left in the 2nd Quarter
This was a key situation where the Patriots had an opportunity to take their first lead of the game. In a questionable play call, the Patriots ran a jet sweep to Brandin Cooks. It was immediately sniffed out by the Eagles defense and Cooks couldn’t leap high enough to overcome the poor play call. The play brought up a fourth down where a poorly handled snap led to a missed field goal by Steve Gostkowski. Coming away from this drive with nothing to show for it was a huge blow to the Patriots.
Patriots Ball – 3rd and 5 on the Eagles’ 35 – 12:03 left in the 2nd Quarter
The Patriots went with the reverse throwback to Tom Brady here. This was a great call and was wide open, but Danny Amendola overthrew Brady by inches. What was frustrating about this play was that Amendola seemingly didn’t understand the situation. No matter how perfectly Amendola hit Brady in stride with this pass, Brady was not going to score a touchdown on this play. Someone on the Eagles defense would have had the angle and athleticism to run him down. Amendola should not have been trying to throw a perfect pass. He should have simply lobbed the ball to Brady. Brady was so wide open that no one would have been able to make a play on it and a completion to Brady was all the team needed for a first down. The Patriots went for it on fourth down and threw an incomplete pass. This was an important drive for the Patriots who were trailing and had failed to score on their last drive despite getting into the red zone. The drive also started after the first and only Eagles’ punt of the night.
Patriots Ball – 3rd and 8 on the Eagles’ 32 – 7:34 left in the 2nd Quarter
After a play fake to Amendola who motioned into the backfield, Brady threw the ball wildly in the other direction where James White is running a swing screen. The Eagles penetrated the backfield too fast causing an errant and incomplete pass. Gostkowski converted the field goal on fourth down. Having trailed the entire game, the Patriots could have used the touchdown here to tighten the Eagles’ lead, but come away with only three points.
Eagles Ball – 3rd and 2 on the Patriots’ 2 – 0:42 left in the 2nd Quarter
Nick Foles locked in on one receiver and forced the ball causing an incompletion. The Eagles lined up to go for it on fourth down then called a timeout. After the timeout, they came out in a different formation and ran the now famous direct snap throwback pass to Foles for the touchdown. The Eagles lost the key third down situation, but turned around and won the key fourth down situation. The Eagles found success in the red zone once again.
Eagles Ball – 3rd and 6 on the Patriots’ 22 – 7:25 left in the 3rd Quarter
Instead of simply throwing a mid-range pass to try to get the first down, Foles takes a shot downfield and hits running back Corey Clement in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. The Eagles made a big play in a situation where the Patriots thought they might be able to hold them to a field goal.
Eagles Ball – 3rd and 3 on the Patriots’ 16 – 15:00 left in the 4th Quarter
The Eagles motioned Nelson Agholor into the backfield and on the snap he headed back in the direction he came from on a swing route. The pass was completed, but he was tackled immediately for a loss. This leads to a Jake Elliott field goal. Coming away from the drive with only three points tightened the score enough to allow the Patriots to take the lead on their next possession. This red zone stop gave the Patriots life.
Eagles Ball – 3rd and 1 on their own 45 – 6:27 left in the 4th Quarter
After a play action fake, pressure forced Foles throw the ball to Torrey Smith in the flat sooner than he wanted to and Devin McCourty came up to make the tackle short of the first down. This was a huge stop for the Patriots who were up by one point and seemingly getting the ball back. The Eagles then went for it on fourth down, and threw a pass Zach Ertz who gained just enough for the first down. The Eagles kept the drive alive, once again losing on third down but winning on fourth down.
Patriots Ball – 2nd and 2 on their own 33 – 2:16 left in the 4th Quarter
The Eagles defense had not managed to get to Brady all day, but on this play Eagles’ defensive lineman Brandon Graham not only gets to Brady but causes a fumble. The Eagles defense had struggled all game but made a big play at the right moment. The Eagles were able to use the clock and force the Patriots to use their timeouts before extending their lead with a field goal.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl by executing better than the Patriots in key situations and having the guts to go for it on fourth down at key moments. The Patriots won some situations late, that gave them a chance, but in the end, the Eagles outperformed them when it mattered the most.