How The Eagles Won The Super Bowl On Fourth Down

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Jody Jamieson Defense wins championships is the often repeated mantra of the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens in 2000 are the perfect tale of a mediocre offense who were simply required to avoid shooting their own dicks off, while a legendary defense did the rest. The 2007 New York Giants schemed a way to hold the then record scoring New England Patriots to just 14 points with it all on the line. Sunday was something completely different. Sure, it was ultimately one huge defensive play by Brandon Graham that helped seal the deal, but if one or two plays of that magnitude were made by either defense at any point, we may have seen a drastically different game. If the vaunted Eagles front four were able to turn the pressure they did get into more sacks or turnovers earlier, we might not be talking about this being an all time great Super Bowl. And if the Patriots defense had stepped its game up, we may not have seen an unheralded backup quarterback win a shootout against the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen. Too often it’s easy to simplify these types of games down to one or two plays, but sometimes it is the key plays that end up the difference. Without two successful attempts on fourth down, the likely outcome is that the Eagles are still searching for their first ever Lombardi Trophy, while Brady is being fitted for ring number six Before we get to the Eagles offense, it’s worth pointing out that there were two key fourth down plays on defense and special teams that must be mentioned. After marching down the field on their first two drives, the Patriots decide after a fantastic tackle from Rodney McLeod on a hurdling Brandin Cooks to not go for it on 4th and 1 on the Philadelphia 8 yard line. They decide instead to settle for a field goal to try to trim the deficit to 9-6. Punter and holder Ryan Allen fumbles the snap, breaking Stephen Gostkowski’s rhythm, forcing him to essentially stop dead in his tracks and swing a leg at it. The Patriots could have had seven, settled for three, but hit the upright and came away with zero. On the very next New England drive they find themselves after the only punt of the game on the Philadelphia 35 yard line in just three plays. On third down, the Patriots ran a gadget play that Eagles fans may remember from the last time they faced the Patriots, though ironically the 2015 play design was more reminiscent of the Philly Special than the one the Pats tried on Sunday, both in design and in execution. We’ll get to that in a bit. Just like 2015, Danny Amendola winds up throwing to Tom Brady on 3rd down. Back then Brady had a 36 yard reception. On Sunday, the ball is just a little longer than Brady would like, and he drops it. Instead of attempting a 52 yard field goal with Gostkowski, they instead go for it on 4th and 5. I don’t necessarily criticise the move, but it does make me wonder why they didn’t go for it earlier. Brady throws to Rob Gronkowski. The throw is a little off the mark and falls incomplete. Philadelphia takes over on downs and scores a touchdown six plays later to go up 15-3. The Patriots have two faux pas on fourth down on offense and special teams but the worst is yet to come from them on defense. The score gets to 15-12. There’s 38 seconds left in the first half, and it’s fourth and goal Eagles on the one and a half yard line. “Common sense” says the Eagles kick the field goal and go in six points up while Justin Timberlake runs around doing his schtick and Selfie Kid becomes a thing. Doug Pederson’s Eagles are not your conventional common sense team however. The odds tell you by even committing to going for it their odds of winning go up. That’s a discussion for another time. Not only do they decide to go for it, but they pull out a trick play for the ages. The Philly Special already has its special place in NFL, Philadelphia Eagles and Super Bowl lore all at once. We now know that it’s a play that Pederson and his staff had in their pockets for this playoff run. It’s very reminiscent of something Clemson ran in college in 2012 on a two point conversion. The Chicago Bears ran an almost identical play in Week 17 last year against the Vikings, which may have been where the idea came from, with Alshon Jeffrey coming over from Chicago in the off-season. Matt Barkley (who the Eagles drafted once upon a time) even did the same audible fake job Foles pulled off in the same building a year later. Eagles in the shotgun. Three receivers to the left. Foles moves Corey Clement from the right to behind in the pistol. Comes to the line and calls “Kill! Kill!” as if the Eagles have to go to their second play. Shouts “Lane! Lane!” as if he’s giving an instruction to right tackle Lane Johnson. It doubles up as the snap count. He even stands completely still to ensure he doesn’t commit an illegal shift penalty. Clement takes the direct snap and runs left. The Eagles line crashes left selling the run. That in itself if it’s the play is something ballsy. Backup tight end Trey Burton comes back across the formation almost on an end around. Takes the pitch from Clement. Alshon Jeffrey is lined up on the right to run a slant inside to take away the cornerback. As he does this, Foles runs a simple flat route into the open space. Burton throws. Foles catches. 22-12 Eagles. I am convinced that some team somewhere in the NFL is going to run this play in 2018 and screw it up. I’m also convinced that some other team will show the same look and just run the ball on the direct snap. But on this night no-one saw it coming. Given the magnitude of the situation, it was one of the great trick plays in NFL history. That the on field audio was released on Tuesday and it turns out it was Foles who suggested to Pederson that fourth and goal was the time just adds another wrinkle to the story of this incredible play. The second half raged on like it a seven on seven drill. Both defenses continued to tackle like it was the Pro Bowl and they’d rather be anywhere else. Gronkowski, who had looked like a guy with his head in the clouds in the first half, went wild in the second. Catching 68 yards worth and the touchdown on a 75 yard drive to open the half, before hauling in another touchdown in the fourth quarter which gave the Patriots their first lead of the game. 33-32 Patriots with a little over 9 minutes to play. We’ve seen this script a million times. The Eagles were having none of it. In a 2 point win at the LA Chargers earlier in the season, they had a memorable drive where they got possession of the ball with seven minutes left and a precarious lead, and chewed the clock to zero to wrap up the win. They had a similar plan again. They actually got to a point late in the drive where they were 1st and 10 at the Pats 14 with 2:37 left and New England had two timeouts left. It was a weird scenario where if they’d actually got the first down but not the touchdown three plays later, they could have had a serious discussion about taking knees, draining the clock, kicking a chip shot field goal, and going home with the trophy. A second down incomplete pass put that plan to bed, but an 11 yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz on the 14th play of the drive gave the Eagles the lead they never relinquished. The Eagles were 10 for 16 on third down in the game, yet it was on this drive one of the misses came. A throw to Torrey Smith was sniffed out well by Kyle Van Noy and he was tackled for no gain. With 5:39 left and the Eagles on 4th and 1 on their own 45, the “common sense” approach is to punt and play defense. There may have been the fear that Brady would just march down the field again and put another touchdown on the board. The mindset may have been that the way the defense was playing, he’s gonna score wherever the drive starts. Or maybe the Patriots concoct a masterful drive and run out the clock for the one point win. Whatever the mindset was about the Philadelphia defense, I suspect this team was going for it regardless in that situation. It almost ended in complete disaster aswell as the Patriots pass rush for one of the rare times in the game completely blew up the Eagles offensive line. Foles slid away from the pressure and hit Zach Ertz for a contested two yard gain. In a game that set an NFL record for offensive yards, a two yard pass play ended up one of the biggest of the night. You know the rest of the story by now. Ertz scores. Brady is strip sacked. Jake Elliott nails a clutch field goal to make it 41-33. Patriots try a reverse on the kick off and screw it up. Brady takes them from his own 9 to the 49 for one last desperation heave down the field. The ball bobbles around for what feels like an eternity. It falls incomplete as the clock strikes zero. I did the ugliest happy cry of all time. Ok maybe you didn’t know that last bit, but I’m not ashamed to admit it. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. There was a big part of me who’d made peace with the fact I may never see the day. The Eagles ended the 2017 regular season 17-26 on fourth down. Only Green Bay had more attempts, but sometimes that’s what happens with a 7-9 team. You certainly don’t expect a 13-3 team to be doing that, but it was the Eagles identity all through Doug Pederson’s second season. Trust the offense, even when MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down. There were only three attempts made on fourth down in the postseason. All three were successful, including a 4th and goal touchdown in a 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons, and thats a major reason why the Vince Lombardi Trophy is finally making its way down Broad Street today. There are many other reasons of course. Solid coaching. A talented, deep roster. A group of guys who seemed to love playing with each other. The “next man up” mentality. The chip on their shoulders after being underdogs in ever postseason game despite being a #1 seed. A backup quarterback who had the poise to make the turnaround from throwing clunkers to end the regular season, to the guy who torched the Vikings and then took on perhaps the greatest quarterback who ever lived in a shootout and won. But the aggression of this team on offense was key to its success. They were the highest scoring team in the NFL till Wentz got injured. They had to win on defense to wrap up the number 1 seed, and then against the Falcons when Foles was an adventure in the first half, but acceptable enough in the second. But all along the coaching staff believed in Foles. Once he got going, the training wheels came off, and the Eagles offense of the first 13 games of the regular season reappeared in all its guts and glory. The Eagles have been blessed with some pretty good quarterback play down the years. But Ron Jaworski only made the Super Bowl once and lost. As did Donovan McNabb. Randall Cunningham never played in a Super Bowl, and in typical Eagles fashion, came closer to doing it in Minnesota than he ever did in Philadelphia. Yet Nick Foles stepped in on short notice and did it. These are not your typical Eagles anymore. It would be somewhat typical if Carson Wentz has a great career under centre for the Eagles and never wins one, but we’ll worry about that come September and beyond. For now there’s a parade to enjoy, and an off-season to savour. I could have written something today about what this means, but there are no words to really convey it. If you’re reading this as a fan of a team who you’ve never seen win it all, I hope you all one day get to have that feeling I had on Sunday and the after glow that comes with it. There’s nothing like it. Unless you’ve become a Dallas Cowboys fan in the last 20 years. You can all eat Nick Foles’ allegedly giant dick. A lot has changed for Philadelphia Eagles fans over the past few days, but old habits die hard. Enjoy this moment fellow Eagles fans, and Fly Eagles Fly.