MINNEAPOLIS – A prominent theme heading into Super Bowl LII was that fans were sick of the Patriots being in the big game. It was boring and repetitive. People felt the event could benefit from some fresh new blood.
Really, would you rather have watched the Jaguars? What could be better big-game drama than two of the top three scoring offenses going at it, with the best quarterback ever going against team with a bold, assertive head coach and a backup quarterback on the roll of his life?
There was a time, remember, when the Super Bowl was notorious for one-sided games, snoozers that took a back seat to the TV ads and the square pools. But hate them or not, you can't accuse the Patriots of delivering a dull product to the American public.
The Eagles' 41-33 victory Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium was the best game in Super Bowl history, a breathtaking shootout between Tom Brady and Nick Foles in front of a highly partisan Philadelphia crowd that had waited half a century for this moment.
Brady threw for 505 yards, breaking the record he set a year ago as he tried to drag the Pats from a double-digit deficit in the second half for the third time in four Super Bowls. But it all went for naught.
Foles, who was thrust into this spot because of an injury to Carson Wentz late in the regular season, was equal to the challenge, throwing for 373 yards and three TDs, including a game-winning 11-yard TD to Zach Ertz with 2:21 to play. Foles even caught a TD pass in his MVP performance.
"I just trust Foles," said Eagles wideout Nelson Agholor, who had nine catches for 84 yards, including two big ones on the winning drive. "He does what he needs to do. Our quarterbacks are coached very well."
The teams combined for 1,151 yards, breaking the Super Bowl record before the end of the third quarter. The Patriots didn't punt. They had 613 yards. But they ran into an offense that was every bit as relentless and resourceful, and lost for the third time in eight Super Bowls.
"It's not about the team on the other side," said running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 90 yards and a TD against his former team. "It's about this team and this resilient group of guys. We've done everything the coaches have told us to do all season.
"We dug deep. We knew this was going to be a grind. We knew this wasn't going to be easy. We knew we had to do everything perfect against this team."
The Eagles were far from perfect on defense. But they got a big strip-sack from Brandon Graham on Brady with 2:21 to play. They made a couple of timely stops in the first half and led, 22-12, despite giving up 350 first-half yards.
During the long halftime, I rewound my thoughts from a year ago. Was this was the moment Bills fans had long hoped for, the time when the Pats began to show cracks and you could see the unmistakable signs of a dynasty coming apart?
Of course, we all knew what happened last year, when the Pats came from 25 points down in the second half. And to the Seahawks three years ago, not to mention the Jaguars two weeks earlier. We've learned never to write the Pats off when they had Brady under center and Belichick on the sidelines.
But this one felt different. The Eagles and their gambler of a head coach, Doug Pederson, went for the Patriots' throats and didn't let go. Pederson, in his second year as Philly's leader, called an aggressive offensive game that put Foles in a position to succeed.
Pederson was coaching high school nine years ago. When he replaced Chip Kelly as head coach two years ago, former NFL executive Michael Lombardi called Pederson "less qualified to coach a team that anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL." Lombardi later apologized, with good reason.
It was soon apparent that Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, had the aggressive mindset and creative intellect of today's NFL. The Eagles looked doomed when star QB Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury late in the season. But Pederson tweaked the offense to suit Foles and stayed aggressive.
"I take it week by week," Pederson said. "But I trust my players. I trust the coaches and I trust my instincts. I trust everything that I'm doing, and I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys. In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make tough decisions and keep yourself aggressive."
Pederson and Frank Reich, the offensive coordinator, gave Foles a run-pass option that simplified his reads. In the NFC title game against a top-ranked Vikings defense, Foles attacked Minnesota with deep throws in a 38-7 rout.
Sunday, Foles picked up where he left off. He marched the Eagles to a field goal on their first possession. He heaved a 34-yard TD bomb to Alshon Jeffrey later in the first quarter to give the Eagles a 9-3 lead. He threw a 21-yard strike to Jeffery a play before Blount broke a 21-yard TD run to make it 15-3.
But the true expression of Pederson's guts and guile came later in the first half, when he went on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and pulled a trick play out of his hat. Tight end Trey Burton took a flip from Corey Clement and threw a TD pass to, yes, Foles, in the right corner of the end zone.
"Give them credit," said Pats head coach Bill Belichick. "Doug Pederson and his staff, they did an outstanding job. They played a competitive game. In the end, we just couldn't make enough plays, and that was all on me."
Pederson knows you don't beat Brady and Belichick with field goals. Let's hope Sean McDermott was taking notes.
Brady, looking to snap an eight-game losing streak by MVPs in the Super Bowl, wouldn't back down. The greatest QB ever led three straight TD drives against a Jim Schwartz defense that was average away from home this season, floating a 4-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski to give the Pats their first lead, 33-32.
Pederson didn't blink. With 5:39 left, he went on fourth-and-1 near midfield. Foles, under pressure, hit Ertz for 2. He hit Agholor for consecutive first downs. Three plays later, he hit Ertz for the winner.
"I knew we were going to have to score a touchdown in that situation," Pederson said. "A field goal wasn't going to be good enough, not against Brady and the Patriots, so we stayed aggressive.
"It kind of felt like whoever had the ball last could win this game."
Yes, it's never over with Brady until the clock reads 0:00. But Graham stripped the ball from him on the Pats' second play after the TD. Philly tacked on a field goal and Brady got the ball one more time and went over 500 yards passing. But for at least for one night, Bills fans got their wish.
Time caught up with him.