Even if you didn’t watch it live you have seen the play by now. New England had the ball down five points to Philadelphia with just over two minutes left to play in the Super Bowl. Far from a precarious predicament, we have come to expect Tom Brady to thrive in these situations. Most fans were probably on the edge of their seat in anticipation of yet another fantastic finish from the Patriots’ star quarterback.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham replaced Brady’s storybook ending with one of his own.
You probably didn’t even hear Graham’s name much in the lead up to the big game even though he just had the best regular season of his eight-year career with 9.5 sacks. With that one play, however, he ensured that everybody would be talking about him afterwards.
But before I get into Graham’s sack and caused fumble that all but sealed the win, I want to point out some other big plays he made on Sunday that kind of flew under the radar during the broadcast. Graham was already having one hell of an impactful game before that play, and it’s about damn time that he gets his just due.
Remember when the Patriots tried to be aggressive and go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Philly 35-yard line?
Well the Eagles, too, were aggressive on that play and decided to send an extra rusher to get after Brady. The right side of their defensive line looked normal with Fletcher Cox in a three technique on the outside shade of New England left guard Joe Thuney and rookie first-round pick Derek Barnett in a wide-five outside of New England left tackle Nate Solder.
The left side of the defensive line was lined up a little bit funky. Graham was lined up in a five technique on the outside shoulder of Patriots right tackle Cameron Fleming, but Chris Long was lined up outside of him, and linebacker Nigel Bradham was lined up outside of Long. Plenty of teams line two guys up that wide in pass-rush situations, but three guys lined up outside of the offensive tackle is not something you see every day.
Obviously all three guys couldn’t rush outside of Fleming, but the fun was in seeing where they would all end up. Long ended up going upfield as the contain rush, while Bradham looped all the way inside to the A gap. Pats running back James White was offset to that side, and he was supposed to to track Bradham and block him (it didn’t work out that way, but still). That left Graham to rush inside against Patriots right guard Shaq Mason.
Graham got off the ball and angled toward Mason. When he was close enough he shot his inside hand in Mason’s chest and his outside hand at Mason’s outside shoulder. When Mason tried to dig in to protect against a power rush, Graham clubbed Mason’s outside shoulder, then he worked to Mason’s outside edge with a rip move. Graham beat Mason cleanly without breaking stride, and Graham was able to reach out and hit Brady’s arm with his inside hand as Brady tried to follow through on a deep pass down the field.
Who was on the end of that pass attempt?
Just some dude named Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots had lined up with trips — three receivers — to their left side with Gronkowski split out wide by himself on the right side. The Eagles had cornerback Jalen Mills take Gronk one on one up the sideline with the a single high safety in the middle, and I gotta tell you, that didn’t work out so well for them.
As amazing as it sounds, Gronk beat a flatfooted Mills off the line and had at least two steps on him when Brady started to throw the ball. Graham’s hit on Brady’s arm, however, had the ball wobbling as it traveled through the air. Instead of Gronk being able to catch it in stride as he crossed into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown, the ball was short as if it was a back-shoulder fade. Even though Gronk was able to slow down enough to have a shot at hauling it in, the under-thrown pass allowed Mills to catch up and make a play on the ball. It fell harmlessly to the ground for an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
Graham’s pressure on that play not only gave the ball back to the offense, but also probably saved a touchdown.
In case you’ve forgotten already, the Eagles went right down the field and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to go up 15-3 after they failed on their two-point try.
Graham would not be denied.
On the first play of the ensuing New England drive, they promptly gained 46 yards on a screen pass to running back Rex Burkhead that took them from their 25-yard line all the way down to the Philly 29-yard line.
The Patriots decided to try a play-action pass, as they so often do on first down, but this time Graham was ready. He lined up in a wide-nine technique outside of Gronkowski, and on the snap he eschewed playing the run and instead hauled ass up the field right around Gronk. Graham was so quick off the ball that he had Gronk beat upfield with a dent move before Gronk was barely out of his stance.
Since it was play action, however, Gronk had some help in blocking Graham. Or at least some help trying to.
First, Burkhead tried to pick Graham up after he carried out the play fake. Graham ever so disrespectfully mushed Burkhead in the face and chest with his hands and shoved him out the way. Almost simultaneously, Fleming joined the fray to try push Graham wide, but he couldn’t change Graham’s track at all.
Vinny Curry, who was playing opposite Graham as the right defensive end, was almost able to get to Brady from the backside. While he initially looked to be unblocked because of the zone look the Patriots were showing, Andrews ended up popping back out to pick him up at the last minute. Andrews got just enough of Curry to keep him from diving right into Brady’s chest, but seeing Curry screaming from the backside and Graham coming from the front side had Brady between a rock and a hard place.
Since Curry was on the ground to his left, Brady couldn’t try to slide that way to avoid Graham’s rush. Instead Brady just tried to just heave the ball up off his back foot rather than take a sack. Graham wasn’t quite able to hit Brady’s arm this time, but Graham’s presence after beating three different guys certainly affected the throw.
The resulting pass was short and off target to Danny Amendola who was running a deep over route from the left slot. Amendola had a step on Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who had him man to man with nobody else in coverage deep on that side of the field.
Another good opportunity for a touchdown that was spoiled thanks to pressure from Graham.
Two plays later Graham would get another pressure on Brady on a screen pass that was doomed once Long hit White while he was trying to sneak out of the backfield on a flare route on third-and-8. After getting to the Philly 29-yard line in one play, the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal in no small part thanks to Graham’s efforts.
Graham had another big play at the end of the first half.
The Pats had first-and-10 from their own 44-yard line with 22 seconds. Anybody who has ever seen Brady work knows that 22 seconds is plenty of time for him to get his team into field goal range, if not score a touchdown.
New England is notorious for selling out to score right before halftime if there’s any time left on the clock when they know they are getting the ball first in the second half. It’s a way for them to pull away from their opponent, or catch up to them in a hurry, so it was very important that the Eagles not give up anything cheap.
This time Graham was lined up as the left three-technique on Mason’s outside shoulder. Graham used essentially the same move to beat Mason as he had before, once again punching Mason in his chest and right shoulder, once again working to a rip move. The bad part is Andrews was already sliding Mason’s way, but because Mason didn’t set wide and force Graham to his help, Andrews had to immediately try to pull behind Mason to pick Graham up before he knocked Brady into next week.
Graham’s pressure along with Cox’s, who was lined up as the right three technique and essentially got bear hugged by Thuney on an inside move, forced Brady to step up in the to the B gap on Cox’s side. When Brady still didn’t see anybody open he tried to take off up the field to gain a few yards and get out of bounds.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself because he he had Brady in his sights before Andrews decided to double team him, Graham kept hustling. When he saw Brady running toward the sideline, Graham turned on the jets to take Brady down in the field of play.
His hustle forced the Patriots to spike the ball at midfield with just four seconds left in the half, essentially ending any chance of a Patriots’ score before halftime aside from a fluke Hail Mary. With so little time left, New England didn’t even try for a Hail Mary on the next and final play of the first half, instead opting for a screen pass that had no chance of scoring.
Another crisis averted in large part due to Graham’s efforts!
Did I mention that White was wide-ass open in the flat on that play because the Eagles played Tampa 2 and the corner to that side, Mills, sank with the vertical route? But Brady never even saw White with all the bodies flying around him.
And then, of course, there was the play.
With just over two minutes left in the game and Philly up by only five points, Graham stared fate down and ripped his heart right out of his chest.
After a dump off to Gronk gained eight yards on the first play of that drive, the Patriots had a second-and-2 from their own 33-yard line. We’ve all seen Brady’s late-game heroics, time and again, and after what he did to the Falcons last year in the Super Bowl, it would have been understandable if Eagles fans and maybe even a few players were wary of this situation.
Graham saw it as an opportunity.
He was lined up again as the left three tech across from Mason, and I doubt Mason was happy to see him again. But things were about to get a lot worse for him.
On the snap, Graham came off and grabbed both of Mason’s wrists and bulldozed Mason backward. After a couple of steps, Graham shoved Mason back a little to create some space, then shot both his hands into Mason’s chest to control him for a brief second. As soon as Mason tried to push back, Graham stepped wide for yet another rip move.
Let me just take time out to appreciate how Graham finishes his move with a strong ass rip move. Like he doesn’t let offensive linemen hang on to him at all. Graham shoots his rip with his fist up high in the air with the kind of force that might break some fingers if a blocker tries too hard to hang on to his jersey. I wish more guys executed their rip moves that way. They would be much better off if they did.
But I digress.
Mason was beaten so badly and so quickly that he was barely able to turn around in time to watch helplessly as Graham reached out with his left hand and knocked the ball out before Brady could start his throwing motion. The ball tumbled to the turf and took a fortuitous bounce for Philly right into Barnett’s hands.
Just like that Philadelphia had the ball on the New England 31-yard line with 2:09 left in the game, already in field goal range and with a chance to go up eight points on the defending Super Bowl Champions.
All thanks to another big play from Graham.
Graham still wasn’t done.
The Eagles did indeed smartly run the ball three times and kick the field goal (cranes neck at the Falcons) to go up eight points, but lest we forget, the Patriots still had just under a minute to try to tie the game on Sunday. Guess who the guy was getting yet another pressure on the very last play of the game.
Go ahead, guess.
The Eagles only went with a three-man rush, but in this situation it was appropriate because the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point play just to tie it, and the more guys in coverage to help prevent a deep completion, the better.
Graham was lined up as the left defensive end this time in a wide-five technique. It looked like he had been shot out of a cannon as soon as the ball was snapped. He was trying to swipe Fleming’s outside wrist with his outside hand, but when Fleming went to punch, Graham gave him a nasty dent move with his inside hand. Graham was able to chop down Fleming’s punch attempt, then work to a rip move to beat him cleanly around the edge before Brady could even finish his drop back.
Graham was on Brady so fast I’m not sure he could even believe it.
Unfortunately Graham was a little out of control and couldn’t quite turn the corner tight enough to make a sure tackle. Brady ended up slipping out of his grasp, but it still forced Brady to scramble and drift to his right to try to get the throw off.
Trying to complete a Hail Mary is already a crap shoot. I’m sure Brady having to shake off a guy to avoid being taken down right before he heaved the ball up in the air couldn’t have helped his chances. Brady’s pass would ultimately fall incomplete in the end zone well after the game clock had already gone to all zeroes.
This last play kept nagging at me, but I couldn’t figure out why until I watched it again early Thursday morning. Malcolm Jenkins risked an illegal contact penalty by chucking Chris Hogan after Hogan was 10 yards down the field. Why would he do that? And why did the Hail Mary seem so unorganized? And then I saw it.
It wasn’t a Hail Mary. It was supposed to be a middle screen to Amendola. You can see Amendola turn around looking for the ball, but at that exact moment Brady had Graham draped all over him.
Jenkins chucked Hogan because he saw Amendola looking for the ball and was trying to get to him. So you end up with Hogan getting walled inside away from the eventual Hail Mary throw, Amendola well behind the play after trying to wait for the middle screen pass, and Gronk damn near by himself trying to make the catch over like four or five Eagles defenders.
As a matter of fact the ball was thrown while Gronk was still on like the 10-yard line. When he looked back and saw it coming he had to quickly try to adjust to get in position to try to catch it.
Oh and by the way, that middle screen would’ve had a chance because the Eagles were playing the sidelines as they had on the previous play, expecting the Pats to try to get a quick pass out of bounds with time left on the clock to then try a Hail Mary. Which of course makes Graham’s pressure all that more meaningful!
With that, the Philadelphia Eagles were Super Bowl Champions for the first time ever. As you can see, Graham had a huge hand in the win. He may never get the kind of recognition he deserves for how well he plays the game of football, but with his production against the Patriots on Sunday, including a sack, a caused fumble, four hurries, and a tackle, he guaranteed that when people talk about great Super Bowl performances, his name will always come up.
For his efforts on the biggest stage in football, Brandon Graham is my Hoss of the Super Bowl for the 2017 season.
Good for him!