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How we got another Eagles vs. Patriots Super Bowl

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz revisits the key moments and decisions that decided the NFL Conference Championship games.

NFC Championship - Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. Both teams advanced this weekend in games I thought would go differently.

I picked the Patriots to win a blowout against the Jaguars and the Eagles to win a close one over the Vikings. The opposite happened. Still, it was enjoyable football on Championship Sunday, and I’ve got you covered with my breakdown of all the action.

There are sequences, not individual plays, that define games. The Patriots vs. Jaguars game was no different.

A delay of game penalty stopped the Jags’ momentum.

Second quarter, 2:33

Jacksonville lines up to take the snap at the Patriots’ 44-yard line. It’s third-and-7, after a New England timeout. The Jags are up 14-3 and about to strike again.

Bortles completes a pass for a first down, but oh wait, it’s a delay of game. This was the right call. It was late because the back judge is in charge of throwing that flag and no one can hear him. After the delay of game penalty, Bortles is sacked and it’s fourth down.

Punting right before the two-minute warning helped the Patriots score.

Second quarter, 2:02

Jacksonville decides to punt the ball before the two minute warning with plenty of time left on the play clock. That allowed New England a free play before the warning. New England tries to steal yards with a run, get’s nothing. But Jacksonville wasn’t locked in to the situation.

Did Church’s hit on Gronkowski change how the refs called the game?

Second quarter, 1:40

It’s a Tom Brady pass over the middle to Rob Gronkowski. Jags safety Barry Church gets flagged for making contact with Gronk’s helmet. In the process, Gronk is knocked out of the game. I tweeted this, and it’s the sad truth of this game, but with that hit the Jaguars knocked out New England’s best player and didn’t really have to pay for it.

Second quarter, 1:23

The play after Church’s hit on Gronk was a defensive pass interference on A.J. Bouye who was covering Brandin Cooks down the left sideline. Up until this point, the officials had let everything go. I liked it.

I do wonder if the Gronk hit got the refs into the mindset of throwing flags. I agree something needed to be thrown here, but I doubt it happens if Gronk wasn’t knocked out the play before.

Second quarter, 0:55

James White barrels into the end zone for a touchdown. Jacksonville 14, New England 10.

The Jags lost their killer instinct with a minute left in the first half and a pair of timeouts.

Second quarter, 0:55

Jacksonville decided to take a knee on its 25-yard line and head into the half. I don’t like this move at all. You have to be aggressive against New England at all times.

The Jags could have had three points two minutes before this, but didn’t convert that opportunity. Then, New England comes back to score. After that, the Jaguars, who had 209 yards in the first half, just sat on the ball and didn’t try to score points with Blake Bortles having the first half of a lifetime. He was 13 for 15 with 155 yards and a touchdown! Stay aggressive, Jacksonville!

The Patriots made the plays the Jaguars couldn’t.

For the most part, I thought New England handled the Jacksonville pass rush, considering how elite they were. On this play in the fourth quarter, not so much.

Fourth quarter, 11:35

Marcell Dareus, not known for his pass-rush ability of late, beats New England’s best lineman, right guard Shaq Mason, for a sack on first down. It’s now second-and-18, and that was followed up by an incompletion.

Fourth quarter, 10:49

It’s third-and-18. The ball’s at New England’s 25, with the Patriots down 20-10. This is the game right here. The best pass rush coupled with the best pass defense, this should be a win for the Jaguars.


Brady steps up and finds Danny Amendola for 21 yards and the first down at their own 46-yard line. It was a clean pocket, and Brady ate up the zone coverage.

Fourth quarter, 10:19

The very next play, it was a flea-flicker for 31 yards to none other than Phillip Dorsett! The kid was traded to the Patriots in the Jacoby Brissett trade and was nonexistent all season. But he comes up with a huge catch in a big moment.

This was the second trick play the Patriots ran in consecutive drives, maybe a first for them. They had to empty out the playbook Sunday night, a sign of respect for the Jaguars.

The Patriots made the plays, the Jaguars didn’t. That is what football comes down to. You can bitch and moan about officials, and I’ll cover that in a second, but just make your plays and you win.

More takeaways from the AFC Championship game

New England made the right adjustments.

Y’all love to talk about adjustments. They don’t happen that often and aren’t as cool as you think. Adjustments are very rarely drawn in the sand. The playbook is vast and you decide to trim it down for the game. But you always have things in your back pocket if you need to change it up. That’s normally how it goes — it’s not some hectic adjustment.

Most staffs aren’t so willing to make adjustments because they trust their plan. They have worked all week coming up with the best way to defeat an opponent, and if you trust the plan, you will win.

New England doesn’t give a damn. They will change it up quickly, and I think that’s what makes Belichick such a great coach. And these adjustments are often very subtle and hard to notice, but they often help win games.

The first was giving the offensive line help, in particular the right tackle.

After the first drive ended in a sack, the Patriots started to rely heavily on chips to help their offensive line. It worked. If you notice, the receiving totals were down for the running backs and that explains it. Also, the chipping was necessary because the Patriots had to start driving the ball downfield. They had no choice.

Another adjustment was bringing pressure in the second half.

The Patriots had zero pass rush in the first half. Bortles was allowed to sit back and pick apart the defense. The Patriots got tired of that. They brought slot pressure numerous times and it disrupted Bortles. They also started to bring pressure on play-action passing downs, not allowing Bortles to get set up in the pocket to deliver the ball.

The difference between quarterbacks was clear.

Blake Bortles ... great story. Overcoming early career adversity to lead his team to the AFC Championship game. The Jaguars think so much of him that he probably won’t be the starting quarterback next season.

We saw his limitations in the second half yesterday. The first half was perfect. Bortles was able to do what he does best: Play-action passes and move-the-pocket throws. But Bortles can’t sit in the pocket and routinely pick apart defenses. That’s why you can’t make adjustments with him or why the Jaguars can have 209 yards in the first half and only gain 62 yards on four fourth-quarter drives, 17 plays total. Good story nonetheless.

Tom Brady ... the GOAT. Enough said.

Stop blaming the officials for everything that goes right for the Patriots.

I saved this for last.

Yes, the officials held their whistles most of the game. The Jaguars had six penalties. Three of those were procedure fouls, which are cannot be disputed. One was the hit on Gronk. The other a DPI on Jalen Ramsey, and even he didn’t argue that one. The other was the DPI on Bouye, the one call that can be questioned. That’s it. The refs let them play.

I enjoy watching the Jaguars’ offensive line play. They are nasty, but they hold with the best of them. Nothing was called except for when Cam Robinson tackled a dude in front of the ref, and that wasn’t accepted.

Good teams make their own luck because they play sound fundamentals and use excellent technique. Also, as a former player, we almost never use the officials as an excuse for a win or a loss. We can only control our play and that’s it. So to wrap this up, if you blame the officials for a win or loss, that’s a lazy ass take.

Nick Foles looked the part when it mattered most.

Not much to report on the nightcap. The Eagles thoroughly dominated the Vikings. After the Vikings scored a touchdown to go up 7-0, the Eagles outscored the visitors 38-0, including an interception return that started their scoring off.

Nick Foles had the game of his life last night. He had a near-perfect passer rating, going 26 for 33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 78.8 percent of his passes. And went 11 for 11 with a perfect passer rating in the second half against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. The Eagles were also 10 of 14 on third downs. Just an incredible performance, and he deserves much of the credit.

The Eagles had the roster depth to keep on winning, too.

The Eagles’ coaching staff, led by Doug Pederson, and their front office deserve some credit, too. The Eagles are in the Super Bowl after losing their franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, to an ACL injury late in the season. He was on track to win the MVP.

The Eagles have also played more than half their games without their All-Pro left tackle, Jason Peters. Their middle linebacker is out for the season, they didn’t have a feature running back until trading for Jay Ajayi, their secondary has at times been their biggest weakness, and yet zero complaining. Just the next guy up!

The best offensive line made the Super Bowl.

It’s important to build up the trenches. The Eagles’ offensive line has carried the offense since Wentz went down. They dominated a great Vikings’ defensive line at the Linc last night. Credit the coaches for getting backup left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai ready to play and making adjustments to give him the help needed.

The hangover effect felt real for the Vikings.

There was much discussion about the emotional letdown the Vikings could have been feeling from the Minneapolis Miracle. They came out firing early, but after that Case Keenum interception, the team looked flat. The defense was slow and out of place all night.

I think there’s something to a dome team having to play outside on grass. They are a tad slower than at home. That being said, it did seem like the Vikings were just slower than they should have been. I think there was some emotional hangover from the weekend.