Super Bowl LII week in the Bold North in Minneapolis, Minnesota was a bit of a challenge weather-wise for those of us from the South who were in the Twin Cities covering the largest sporting event in the world this past week, but the Minnesota folks were very friendly and went out of their way to make the media feel at home.
Things got started off on Monday night, January 29th at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Minnesota Wild NHL team with Opening Night. That is the night that the coaches and players are first available to the media, and fans can also purchase tickets and join in the festivities.
Tuesday night, January 30th, the Super Bowl LII Host Committee sponsored the Media Party at the Nickelodeon Universe on the first floor of the Mall of America. The area was closed off to everyone but media representatives and their guests. There were several different food serving stations and beverage stations, and several rides were open for the media who wished to enjoy them.
The main event for Wednesday, January 31st was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s address. His two main points included the new 5-year contract the NFL had just signed with Fox Network to take over the Thursday Night NFL games beginning in 2018, and a major announcement regarding the re-defining of a rule that has had fans baffled for the last four seasons. He announced that a committee has been formed and they will have a meeting this week to begin the process of simplifying the definition of a “catch”. As fans know, this has been a sore spot for the last four seasons, and not even the officials understand the wording well enough to be consistent on the calls on the field.
Thursday, February 1st, the highlight was the Pepsi Halftime Press Conference with halftime performer Justin Timberlake answering questions from the press in attendance for several minutes.
The of course, there was Super Bowl Live in downtown Minneapolis that continued on Friday and Saturday before the big game on Sunday, February 4th at US Bank Stadium between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 67,612 fans in attendance definitely got their money’s worth with an exciting game from start to finish, with the Eagles claiming their FIRST Super Bowl Trophy after their thrilling 41-33 victory. Philly led most of the way, and the ONLY lead the Pats had was 33-32 mid-way through the fourth quarter.
New England won the coin toss and deferred till the second half. Philly took the opening kick and drove 67 yards in 14 plays before the Patriot defense stiffened and forced a Jake Elliott 25-yard field goal, giving the Eagles an early 3-0 lead.
Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 9-play, 67-yard drive that culminated with a Stephen Gostkowski 26-yard field goal with 4:17 left in the opening frame, tying the game at 3-3.
MVP Nick Foles brought his team right back, moving 77 yards in just 3 plays before they found the end zone for the first time and set off their fans singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly”. The first lay was a 7-yard pass, followed by a LeGarrette Blount 36-yard run. Foles capped the drive hitting Alshon Jeffery from 34 yards out. Elliott’s extra point try was wide right, but the Eagles took the lead again at 9-3.
On their ensuing drive, the Pats moved all the way down to the Eagle 8, but a 26-yard field goal by Gostkowski was no good, hitting the left upright. The snap was bad and Gostkowski had to double-clutch for the holder to get the seams right, and that caused the timing to be off.
The New England defense, for one of the few times all game, forced a three-and-out, but Brady couldn’t muster anything offensively for his team, and after a fourth down pass fell incomplete, Foles set up shop at his 35.
It took just 6 plays and 3:05 for him to lead the Eagles into the end zone again. The score came on a 21-yard run by former Patriot LeGarrette Blount. A try for a 2-point conversion failed with an incomplete pass, but Philly had a 15-3 lead with 8:48 left in the first half of play.
Brady led his offense down the field, connecting with Rex Burkhead for 46 yards down to the Philly 29 on the first play of a 5-play drive, but New England had to settle for a Gostkowski 45-yard field goal, bringing the score to 15-6.
On the next Philadelphia drive, Foles was intercepted by Duron Harmon at the NE 2. He returned the pick out to the 10, giving his team new life.
Brady drove his unit down the field on a 7-play, 90-yard drive that took 2:57, culminating with a 26-yard run by James White with 2:04 left in the half. Gostkowski’s extra point was wide left, but Brady and company were back within three, 15-12.
The New England defense, which was pathetic a good part of the night, fell apart when they needed a stop in the worst way, allowing the Eagles to move 70 yards in 7 plays in just 1:30, scoring on a Burton to Foles 1-yard pass with 34 seconds left in the first half. Elliott’s extra point was good, and Philly led 22-12. That was the score at the half.
Brady and the Patriots came out with fire in their eyes to start the second half, as they moved 75 yards in 11 plays and took just 2:45 before Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a 5-yard TD pass with 12:15 left in the third quarter. Gostkowski’s PAT was good, and New England was back within three, at 22-19.
Just as they had done previously, Foles and company found the end zone yet again. They moved 85 yards in 11 plays and consumed 4:57 of the third quarter. The possession ended when Foles hit Corey Clement from 22 yards out. Elliott was true on the extra point, and the Eagles extended their lead to 29-19.
Brady brought his team right back, moving 75 yards in 7 plays and taking 3:55. The score came on a 26-yard pass to Chris Hogan with 3:23 left in the third stanza. That got the Pats within three, 29-26.
Foles engineered another scoring drive on his team’s next possession, as Elliott kicked a 42-yard field goal at the conclusion of an 8-play, 51-yard drive that took 4:14, and the Eagles led 32-26 with 14:09 left in the game.
Brady moved the Pats to another TD on their ensuing possession. The drive was 10 plays, 75 yards, and took 4:47. The score came on a 4-yard toss to Gronkowski. Gostkowski added the extra point, and New England took their first and ONLY lead of the game, 33-32.
Once again, an anemic defense allowed Foles to carve out another scoring drive. He led his offensive team on a 14-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 7:01. The TD came on an 11-yard pass to Zach Ertz with 2:21 left in the game. Another 2-point conversion pass attempt fell incomplete, but the Eagles grabbed their final lead of the game, 38-33.
On the second play of their next possession, Brady was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Brandon Graham, and fumbled the ball away at the Patriot 31 to Eagle Derek Barnett with 2:09 left in the game.
Foles led his unit on a short final scoring drive consisting of 4 plays, 4 yards and 1:02. The drive ended when Elliott nailed a 46-yard field goal with 1:05 left in the game, giving the underdog Eagles a 41-33 lead.
The Pats were able to get from their 9 to their 49 in 8 plays, but a final pass to the end zone intended for Gronkowski was broken up by Fletcher Cox, and Philadelphia secured the 41-33 win.
Eagles Coach Doug Pederson summed up his emotions in his post-game presser after the big victory. “It hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m so excited for that locker room. For Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie to give me the opportunity to coach this team, and then everything that we’ve been through this season, to get to this point—a lot of people counted us out—but that locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me. I have a great staff and great players, and we found a way to get it done.”
MVP Foles was asked his thoughts on the game. “Yeah, that was a hard-fought game. New England is a tremendous team, one of the greatest quarterbacks (Tom Brady) and coaches (Bill Belickick) of all time, and just for us, the team all year just fought till the end, just kept leaning on each other. And that’s just what this season has been about. That locker room is a special locker room, and you can see it throughout the course of this game. No matter what happened, we just kept sticking together, kept leaning on each other. We have an amazing coaching staff, and amazing personnel staff. Just to be in this moment, unbelievable.”
“We talked a lot about this last week. About a couple of years ago, there was a time where I was thinking about hanging up the cleats, and I think as people, we deal with struggles. And that was a moment in my life where I thought about it, and I prayed about it. I’m grateful that I made the decision to come back and play. I wouldn’t be out here without God, without Jesus in my life. I can tell you that first and foremost. I don’t have the strength to come out here and play this game like that. That’s an everyday walk. We have struggles as people, and that’s just been my rock and my family.”
Of course, the thoughts from the other sideline were not nearly as happy. Pats Coach Bill Belichick began with an opening statement to the media.
“I’m really proud of the way our team competed tonight. I’m proud of the way our players and coaches competed for 60 minutes. It just wasn’t quite enough. We weren’t able to perform at our best. Obviously, we didn’t do a good enough job coaching, missed a lot of opportunities offensively in the first half, didn’t play good enough defense, didn’t play good enough in the kicking game. Just wasn’t quite enough against a good team like Philadelphia. Give them credit. Doug Pederson and his staff, they did an outstanding job. They played a competitive game. In the end, we just couldn’t quite make enough plays, and that was all on me. Disappointing, but I’m proud of the way our team competed. These guys are champions, champions of the AFC. They earned that. We just came up a little bit short. Tough, tough way to end. There’s a lot of really good things that happened this season, but that’s what this game’s about.”
There were 17 Super Bowl records set in the game. The biggest ones were 1,151 yards of total offense, 874 passing yards, 500 passing yards by the Patriots, 42 first downs, and 613 total yards by the Patriots.
And so, another NFL season is in the books and put to bed. Non-football fans can be happy for a few months now, and die-hard fans like this writer will have to bide their time until late July when NFL Training Camps open up for the 2018 season. It was a great game, and an appropriate way to close out the 2017 season!