It looked like another vintage Tom Brady Super Bowl comeback was on the cards. Despite facing a double-digit deficit on three separate occasions, the Patriots managed to claw their way into a 33-32 lead with 9:22 to play in the game. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a four-yard touchdown pass, and then the extra point by Stephen Gostkowski put the Patriots ahead.
The Eagles desperately needed a scoring drive to kill some clock and stop the bleeding, and they came up with the most important one in franchise history.
The strip sack by Brandon Graham, Jake Elliot’s clutch field goal, and Brady’s last ditch Hail Mary kissing the turf to seal the victory will long be remembered, but I think we should be giving what happened just prior to that more love.
You’ll often hear Denver fans talk about “The Drive” from the 1987 AFC Championship Game where the Broncos drove 98 yards on 15 plays to tie the game late, and then win in overtime. They’ll call it the greatest drive in NFL history.
I’d like to submit this march by the Eagles into that conversation.
9:22, 1st and 10, own 25:
A solid drive start. Nick Foles handed the ball off to Jay Ajayi to run to the right. Center Jason Kelce got outside well as his lead blocker to aid this four-yard gain.
8:43, 2nd and 6, own 29:
This play was a bit of a bust right from the start. James Harrison powered his way right through Philadelphia left tackle Vitai Halapoulivaati and got heavy pressure on the quarterback. Foles launched the ball as far as he could to avoid the sack, but overthrew Torrey Smith by about four yards.
8:35, 3rd and 6, own 36:
It won’t grab any headlines tomorrow, but I think this was Philadelphia’s most important play of the night. They had to convert this to avoid giving the ball back to a red hot Tom Brady.
The Eagles came out in a four wide set, with trips on the left. Corey Clement split out of the backfield to the left to make it five wide and four on the left. Trey Burton set something of a pick on Johnson Bademosi to clear up some space for tight end Zach Ertz, and Foles put the ball on the money to move the chains with one yard to spare.
7:56, 1st and 10, own 36:
The Eagles beefed up on this play putting seven men up on the line of scrimmage. Guard Isaac Seumalo can in as an extra man here. Zach Ertz was set into motion from the left side before Ajayi got the handoff, but Lawrence Guy blew it up for only a two-yard gain.
7:11, 2nd and 8, own 38:
Foles played the game of his life in this one, but he took what the defense gave him here. It was just a play action pass that ended up in a check down to Corey Clement to set up third and short. It looked like Foles may have been trying to push the ball further down the field, but his safe throw on 2nd down was the right decision.
6:26, 3rd and 1, own 45:
This play looked eerily similar to the 3rd and short the Falcons fumbled on at a similar time in last season’s Super Bowl with the lead. Just like in Super Bowl LI, the running back missed his block and Kyle Van Noy had a free run at the quarterback.
Unlike Matt Ryan though, Foles managed to get rid of the ball and avoid a catastrophe. It was a completed pass to Torrey Smith for no gain, but it kept the Eagles in with a chance of scoring on this critical possession.
5:39, 4th and 1, own 45:
Doug Pederson came out there on 4th and 1 with possibly the Super Bowl on the line and threw a pass. Ballsy. It looked like it would backfire when Trey Flowers blew past Stefen Wisniewski and Van Noy ran free again. Foles found his trusty tight end Ertz for a first down on forward progress to extend the game.
4:52, 1st and 10, own 47:
After the vital conversion on fourth down and a timeout to calm the nerves, the Eagles came out with something of an RPO look. The ball went to LeGarrette Blount on a handoff instead of Alshon Jeffrey on a potential slant. It only went for one yard before a sea of Patriots met their former teammate to bring him down.
4:11, 2nd and 9, own 48:
This one was very similar to the second play of the drive in a lot of ways. Harrison steamed past Halapoulivaati again, but Foles had the pocket awareness to start moving early. This throw deserves a lot of credit. He hit Nelson Agholor on the run while evading Harrison to move the ball into plus territory.
3:25, 1st and 10, New England 42:
Matt Patricia decided to bring a four-man rush on Foles, but it never got home. The former Arizona Wildcat had plenty of time to see Agholor beat Chung for the second consecutive play. Agholor made the catch for a first down, and might have gone a lot further if not for a diving tackle by Devin McCourty.
2:43, 1st and 10, New England 24:
Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor were lined up to Foles’ left here. The former went vertically towards the end zone with Stephon Gilmore lined up against him, the latter went out for a short pass at the line of scrimmage against Eric Rowe. Foles had the option to go with either one here. His choices were pretty easily narrowed down when Rowe went on a corner blitz and left Agholor wide open.
Foles found Agholor for the third straight play, and he cut to the outside for ten more yards. Duran Harmon might have reacted a half second late from his safety spot to give Agholor a little extra space.
2:37, 1st and 10, New England 14:
Now comfortably in range to at least take the lead with a field goal, Doug Pederson started to burn clock. Jay Ajayi carried it for three yards here on a handoff up the gut, but the Patriots being forced to use their second timeout was the real significance of this play.
2:30, 2nd and 7, New England 11:
Again it was Agholor and Jeffery against Gilmore and Rowe, this time lined up to the right of the formation. Both receivers broke inside to start their routes before Jeffery made a cut back out towards the pylon. The play might have had a chance if the ball was on the money, but Foles threw it out of the back of the end zone.
2:25, 3rd and 7, New England 11:
This was almost the exact opposite formation the Eagles ran on 3rd and 7 to start the drive. It was four wide at the start with Clement coming out of the backfield to make a fifth. The only difference was that there were trips down to the right instead of the left. Torrey Smith was the lone man on the opposite side of the formation on that play. This time it was Zach Ertz.
New England safety Duran Harmon was originally on the same side of the field as Ertz, but he was shadowing Clement. When he left the backfield, Harmon left his spot.
That left 6”5 250 pound Ertz alone with Devin McCourty, a man seven inches shorter and 55 pounds lighter than the guy he was trying to defend on the biggest snap of the game.
Advantage Ertz, advantage Eagles, and then just over two minutes later, Lombardi Eagles.