Oh, what a game it was. For most fans of the NFL, the only hope for the Super Bowl is that it ends up being a good game. Well—with 17 records set and another dozen tied, it is safe to say the game was enjoyable. A little on the surprising side? Maybe. But that only depends on how much weight you like to give the stats.
According to the stats, the New England Patriots should have been in good shape. Yes, their defense did not appear to be so good on paper and certainly didn’t get the job done Sunday night. But they had been great at bending without breaking all season.
This time they just so happened to break—a lot.
Offensively, if you look at the stats, you would think the Patriots won a blowout. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards after completing 58 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions. In typical Patriots fashion, no one running back got the bulk of the work on the ground. But cumulatively, the New England run game gained 113 yards on just 22 carries for an average of 5.1 yards/carry.
To generate that much offense and not win? Unheard of. So much so that Tom Brady made history by becoming the first quarterback to lose a game after throwing for over 500 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions—ever (regular season or playoffs).
So that fantastic Eagles defense must have done its job, right? Clearly—no. They were supposed to be tough against the run (3.8 yards/carry allowed; 79.2 yards/game allowed). The Chargers allowed the most rushing yards per carry during the regular season (4.9 yards/carry). That’s how bad the Eagles ‘tough’ run defense played!
Philly’s pass defense wasn’t exactly stellar during the season (17th) allowing 227 yards/game. But didn’t Tom Brady come close to that (if not surpass it) in the first half?
Isn’t defense supposed to win championships? Isn’t that how the saying goes?
Yes, but it was the statistical anomaly of them all that won it for the Eagles—quarterback Nick Foles. The backup quarterback had a fantastic day completing 65 percent of his passes (28-43) for 373 yards and three touchdowns (and one interception). He even caught his first career pass for a touchdown off an incredibly gutsy call by head coach Doug Pederson in the first half.
But while his touchdown catch was improbable, it was not what makes him the statistical anomaly. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie tried to justify his confidence in Foles by talking about all the game he’d won as an Eagle. To be fair, his overall record as the Eagles starter is good.
However, after his breakout season in 2013, his play wasn’t good enough for the Eagles to keep him. After an eight-game, injury-shortened season in 2014, he was traded to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford. While it may seem unfair after the year he had in ’13 (64 percent completion percentage, 2891 yards, 27 touchdowns, two interceptions) his body of work in 2014 was pretty bad (59.8 percent completion percentage, 2163 yards, 13 touchdowns, and ten interceptions).
It’s not hard to understand why they let him go. Yeah, he has one great year, but lots of guys have had one great year. Heck—Matt Flynn’s career existed simply because he had one good game!
He didn’t play any better for the Rams (56.4 percent completion percentage, 2052 yards, ten touchdowns, 13 interceptions) in the 11 games he saw action in the 2015 season. He was eventually released and backed up Alex Smith for a year before being brought back to Philly.
He certainly didn’t appear to be a guy that could win a regular season game anymore let alone a Super Bowl. During his limited action in the regular season, that remained true. He didn’t do much in relief of Carson Wentz in the Rams game. He barely beat a pathetic Giants team and didn’t look great against the Raiders. During his limited action against the Cowboys, he struggled.
Foles did not look like the kind of guy that could lead the team to the Super Bowl. Yes, even a team as talented as the Eagles—which is why the Eagles were underdogs at home to a No. 6 seed (the Atlanta Falcons) even though they were the No. 1 seed.
Odds makers are not idiots. They know what sort of picture the stats painted. The Eagles should never have made it past the divisional round. But Nick Foles played like a superstar, and they did. In three postseason games, he completed 72.6 percent of his passes for 97 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception.
So, I guess you could say that in the big picture, the stats did lie since the Eagles won 41-33. But when you look at what Foles did against Atlanta and Minnesota, they were as right as rain.