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Doug Pederson stayed aggressive to stay ahead of Bill Belichick

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Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS –- Doug Pederson said he trusted his players. He trusted his coaches. He trusted his instincts.

It is the instincts part, the gall, the gumption, his foot-on-throat approach, that led to the Philadelphia Eagles first Super Bowl championship. This Eagles 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots here on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium was all about their head coach oozing sass beneath their wings. The Eagles certainly flew, and Pederson made sure they glided boldly while pillaging the Patriots.

“We beat a dynastic team today,” said Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who won it all with the Eagles after doing the same with the Patriots last season. “It takes a lot to dethrone them. There’s too much that went on, and we couldn’t be stopped.”

Pederson ignited it.

He preached to his team all year that an individual can make a difference, but a team can make a miracle.

Knocking off the Patriots in this game for these high stakes can qualify as a miracle. The Patriots were big favorites. They sought their third title in four seasons. They were the team and franchise that entered with the miracles, the magic.

But Pederson kept infusing his team with confident, audacious offensive play calls that rocked the Patriots. New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and all of his defensive players looked stunned and dazed after their defensive debacle. One where they were scorched for points in every quarter. One where they allowed 373 passing yards to the game’s MVP, quarterback Nick Foles. One where they were crunched for 164 rushing yards, 25 first downs, and two Eagles fourth-down conversions.

It was the first of those fourth-down conversions that changed everything about this game.

On fourth-and-1 at the New England 1 with 38 seconds left before halftime, Pederson rattled the Patriots. New England had just scored. It was Eagles up 15-12, and the Patriots were set to gain the second-half kickoff. But Pederson on fourth-and-1 before the half chose gall, gumption and foot-on-throat. His dazzle, trick-play call wound up with Foles catching a touchdown pass. Eagles up 22-12 at halftime.

The trick play was called “Philly Special.”

The Eagles say they had been practicing it for three weeks. They said they were planning to use it in the NFC championship game but blew out the Minnesota Vikings so badly that it was not needed. They saved it for this moment.

“That’s about the best we’ve ever run it, better than in practice,” Pederson said. “They executed it brilliantly.”

It was the moment where the Eagles showed the Patriots that this game would not be played on the Patriots’ terms. This was the moment where the Eagles were not only able to keep the Patriots off balance but also spread doubt among them.

“They played a competitive game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, obviously impressed with the Eagles’ moxie.

“We never really got control of the game,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said, despite throwing for a Super Bowl record 505 yards.

The Patriots led only once, 33-32, with 9:22 left. But right afterward the Eagles drove 75 yards to reclaim the lead on a Foles to tight end Zach Ertz winning 11-yard touchdown pass.

In that drive, the Eagles arrogantly converted another fourth-down play — a fourth-and-1 pass from their own 45-yard line from Foles to Ertz for 2 yards.

That one was gravy. The first fourth-and-1 before halftime was the elixir.

The Patriots defense never recovered from it.

“It is a really difficult play,” Patricia said of the one before halftime. “It is an awareness play in that situation. Obviously, a little bit of trickery there. Great schemed-up play. Those are things that our alert board didn’t expect in this type of game when you have two weeks to prepare.”

You hear that?

The Patriots just got outcoached. And admitted it.

They just trashed their own mantra of ballyhooed “situational” football.

They would have been more prepared to stop the play and maybe stop the Eagles more effectively all night long had starting cornerback Malcolm Butler been in the game. But Belichick decided to bench him. The Patriots laughably tried to talk about packages and schemes and how reserve Eric Rowe was a better fit in this game than Butler. It was complete nonsense.

Rowe was asked if he knew he would be starting.

“It wasn’t official until kickoff,” he said.

He added later, about Butler, “….I feel for him.”

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore added: “He’s (Butler) a great player. He could have helped us. I don’t know.”

So the Patriots started the game with confusion and then Pederson piled on more, knocking them woozy, giving Foles and the offense freedom to play fast and loose.

That amply set up the final stroke, defensive end Brandon Graham’s inside rush and strip-sack of Brady and the Eagles recovery in the final seconds. It sealed the victory. It was the only sack of Brady all night in his 48 pass attempts.

The Patriots lost receiver Brandin Cooks early when Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins knocked him out. No Cooks. No Butler. No defense. No repeat.

No, this was the Eagles night to fly. This was their chance to do to the Patriots what they routinely do to others. And do it with gall, gumption, with foot-on-throat.

“I think the Patriots got a taste tonight of what it feels like to be under constant pressure,” Graham said. “To feel the weight of a game. To have to play sideways. To play with a team constantly in your face and breathing on your neck. I don’t think they like that. They’re used to controlling things. They’re used to things being a lot more comfortable.”

Not tonight.

Not after this Super Bowl of perfect Eagles nerve.

And guts.


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