Super Bowl 2018: History proves Eagles-Patriots could be another classic title game

by Kathleen Campbell0 comments

No one remembers now, not with the stadium expansion to squeeze in all the extra Super Bowl banners, but the Patriots were the original underdog of 21st century football. Tom Brady, at 40 years old, will start his eighth Super Bowl, the first quarterback to ever do so, and despite his age, the Patriots are obviously favored to beat the Eagles. But when Brady suited up for his first one, he was one of the all-time underdogs in Super Bowl history. 

That's what is so fascinating about the Patriots dynasty: there is a what-if scenario, admittedly one needing a lot of what-ifs, that has New England as a great, well-run team who came up short more often than not. What makes Brady, Bill Belichick and whatever rotating cast of characters they're trotting out so good is the ability to stare into the fire and, unflinchingly, execute in near-perfect fashion.

Once upon a time, the Patriots were a two-touchdown underdog that upset the Rams. Within a decade they were nearly a two-touchdown favorite who lost to the Giants. They've won Super Bowls with a lead. They've won Super Bowls with a historic comebacks. 

At one point, people wondered if they would ever get back to a Super Bowl. Knee-jerk historians legitimately thought Belichick and Brady might not be able to win a Super Bowl in a post SpyGate world. This is not hyperbole, it is fact. From January 2015:


Before the Pats ripped off their run of three Super Bowl appearances in four years, there were still old opponents on the Rams and Panthers bitter about the way their Super Bowl losses went down. Before New England played Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, "multiple teams" reportedly called Pete Carroll to warn him about how the Patriots might ... prepare. The Patriots decade-and-a-half long run is fueled by determination, filled with drama and doused in controversy. 

Now, even with reports of "tensions" arising within the building -- since confirmed by owner Robert Kraft by the by -- and even with Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia having one foot out the door, it sincerely feels like the Pats might have three or four more titles left in the tank. If someone showed up from the future and told you Brady retired with eight Super Bowl rings, you couldn't outright dismiss them as a crazy person. 

What stands out more than anything is just how dramatic these Super Bowls have been, even though the Patriots are a dominant force in the NFL. Nothing was ever really easy for them, with maybe the exception of their third Super Bowl over the Eagles. And even then they didn't cover.  






Super Bowl XXXVI (Feb. 2002)

St. Louis Rams

20-17 Patriots win

Rams -14

52.5 (under)

Super Bowl XXXVIII (Feb. 2004)

Carolina Panthrs

32-29 Patriots win

Patriots -7

38.0 (over)

Super Bowl XXXIX (Feb. 2005)

Philadelphia Eagles

24-21 Patriots win

Patriots -7

47 (under)

Super Bowl XLII (Feb. 2008)

New York Giants

17-14 Patriots loss

Patriots -12.5

54.5 (under)

Super Bowl XLVI (Feb. 2012)

New York Giants

21-17 Patriots loss

Patriots -3

53.5 (under)

Super Bowl XLIX (Feb. 2015)

Seattle Seahawks

28-24 Patriots win

Pick 'em

47.0 (over)

Super Bowl LI (Feb. 2017)

Atlanta Falcons

34-28 Patriots win

Patriots -3

57 (over)

As they embark on the voyage for their sixth Super Bowl win in their eighth appearance, let's look back at how the last seven unfolded. 

Patriots 20, Rams 17

Not only did this game kickstart the Patriots dynasty, it would kickstart a nice little run of pretty good Super Bowl matchups. This was the ultimate sharp vs. square situation, which, again, was not how you would picture the Pats. They were the scrappy underdog with the no-name quarterback who captained a perfectly fine, low-octane offense that came up big in the clutch moments. The Pats, now considered unstoppable on offense, were up against "The Greatest Show on Turf" and they were underdogs by 14 points. I distinctly remember watching this game at our Groveland Ave. house in college -- one of the guys in the house had purchased what, at the time, was a huge (46 inches maybe?) flat-screen television from Best Buy (sorry about that, Mr. Cherry). The quality would probably qualify as SD now. You can relive the glory of John Madden and Pat Summerall announcing a Super Bowl in all it's low def glory thanks to the NFL uploading the whole thing to YouTube. 

The over in this game was 52.5 (!) and anyone who took that and/or laid the points knew they were dead man walking before halftime. The Pats choked off the Rams offense, no points were scored and when Ty Law picked off Kurt Warner and took it to the house to make it 7-3 New England with 8:49 to go in the second quarter, the realization that the Patriots could win the game really started to set in. We talk about underdogs pulling off upsets all the time, but you really can't overstate how huge a favorite the Rams were here. The Pats pulling this off is the greatest post-merger Super Bowl upset if you go strictly by the point spread. 

New England led 17-3 going into the fourth quarter. Friendly reminder: the Rams led the NFL in scoring at 31.4 points per game, lost just two regular season games, finished the season with an eye-popping +230 point differential and hung a 40 burger in the Divisional Round against Brett Favre and the Packers. This was a heretofore unstoppable offense and it was being almost shut out through three quarters of the Super Bowl. 

The score wasn't dramatic, but it was stunning. Fortunately, Warner and Co. would rally to make it a game, with the one-time grocery bagger sneaking in for a two-yard score and following it up with a pass to Ricky Proehl for a 26-yard touchdown with 1:30 left that tied the game at 17-17. Enter Tom Brady. 

Nine plays, 53 yards later, enter Adam Vinatieri

via NFL Broadcast

And the rest is history. 

Except no one really knew the Pats were kickstarting a dynasty at that point. They would miss the playoffs the next year before returning in 2003 with a vengeance.

Patriots 32, Panthers 29

New England steamrolled through the regular season, going 14-2, behind the best scoring defense in the league. The offense was average, but Brady produced his second consecutive season with more than 3,600 yards (which is a funny thing to say today -- his 3,620 yards would have fallen between Blake Bortles and Case Keenum's respective totals) but the Patriots still hadn't become an offensive juggernaut. Carolina's defense was loaded on the defensive line, with Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. John Fox was the head coach, Stephen Davis was a dominant power back and Steve Smith had just burst on the scene for his first 1,000-yard season. 

Carolina played over its head, mostly, and was a big underdog in this spot. The total here should tell you a lot about what Vegas expected: 38 is a crazy low number for a Super Bowl, with the public usually leaning over. It looked like a good bet, though, with these teams smashing heads and going scoreless almost the entire first half, until a Deion Branch touchdown catch from Brady broke open the floodgates. 

"I'll tell anyone to this day, that was the most physical game I've ever played," former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison recalled later.

The Panthers would score before the two-minute warning, but what would be a precursor to later, they left a minute on the clock, and it was too much time for Brady, who would find David Givens with 18 seconds left. Somehow, the Panthers squeezed a 50-yard field goal from John Kasay in after. What was a slog suddenly became a shootout. The scoring dried up after the break, with neither team scoring in the third quarter, but a touchdown to kick off the fourth quarter by Brady would give the Pats an 11-point lead. 

Carolina scored just two minutes later on a long DeShaun Foster run, and Fox decided to go for two. After the Panthers took the lead on a 85-yard bomb to Mushin Muhammad, he doubled down on the two-point try. There's a decent chance those failed attempts keep him up at night. 

Newly-minted Titans coach Mike Vrabel would catch a one-yard touchdown pass with under three minutes left (even though everyone saw it coming) and the Panthers would answer with 1:08 left on a Jake Delhomme pass to Ricky Proehl. 

via NFL Broadcast

Spoiler: Brady got too much time. After Kasay sent the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds -- an all-time stomach punch penalty -- Brady went 37 yards in a six plays and Vinatieri again would bury a Super Bowl winning field goal. There is something awe-inspiring about watching Brady casually cut someone open on live television, especially when you know it's coming. This happened during Tiger Woods' peak; he and the Pats were a lot alike in that regard. Good luck stopping them. 

Patriots 24, Eagles 21

If you broke down every funny bounce the Patriots had into a worst-case scenario for them and tried to conceive of a way they never won a Super Bowl, you can almost get there. But this game was always New England's to win. The Pats entered this game as touchdown favorites again after going 14-2 in the regular season for the second year in a row. People don't remember this either all that well, but at the time of this Super Bowl, Tom Brady had NEVER LOST A PLAYOFF GAME. There were actual debates about whether he would ever lose one. Brady won his first 10 playoff starts. A look at the Win Probability graph from Pro-Football-Reference makes it clear this was by far the easiest win of the Patriots dynasty.

via Pro-Football-Reference

The biggest drama in this game involved the Eagles and not necessarily in great ways. Terrell Owens, who broke his leg in the middle of the season, came back for the Super Bowl and -- in a move that more Hall of Fame voters should remember -- caught nine passes for 122 yards on a busted pole. 

Donovan McNabb may or may not have thrown up -- he denies it but we all saw it happen and yet no video footage exists -- and the Eagles definitely puked on their own shoes in a metaphorical fashion, botching their clock management late and never giving themselves a real shot to pull off what the Rams did a few years earlier. The Eagles trailed 24-14 at the two-minute warning but had the ball, because they'd gotten it back with 5:40 left in the game. Unfortunately they needed a 13-play, 3-minute, 52-second drive to score a touchdown, leaving them little time left for a game-winning drive. After using their timeouts and forcing a Pats punt, the Eagles got the ball back at their own four-yard line with 46 seconds left. McNabb would throw a pick to end the game and give the Pats their third Super Bowl in four years. 

Giants 17, Patriots 14

The Pats would make the playoffs the next two years but -- GASP -- lose before the Super Bowl, once to Jake Plummer and a second time to Peyton Manning. Basically the same guy. Losing made the Pats angry, so they decided to uncork arguably the greatest offensive season of all time in 2007. New England added Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth that offseason and shattered every passing and/or scoring record out there. They destroyed everyone in their path, going 16-0 in the regular season and actually inspiring columns about whether or not they were bad sports for running up the score on everyone. That actually happened. More than once.

via the New York Times

Yada, yada, yada, the Patriots made it back to the Super Bowl, morphed into the NFL's Yankees, the ultimate villain after spending half a decade as America's underdog who kept winning in a gritty fashion, and were 12.5-point favorites against the scrappy New York Giants. The over/under in this game was 54.5! And the Giants provided the first formula for beating the Pats: get pressure on Brady by only bringing four guys, keep things close and come away with an impossible helmet grab from an obscure receiver late in the game to keep the drive alive before throwing a touchdown to your star wideout (who would eventually spend time in prison for literally shooting himself in the foot).

"The Helmet Catch" was one of the greatest Super Bowl moments in NFL history. It has layers. Eli Manning escaping from pressure multiple times, putting what was basically a Hail Mary up into the air.


via NFL Broadcast

You'll see this clip 100 times over the next two weeks because the Pats are back in the Super Bowl. But just know this: the Giants upending the Pats was one of the most dramatic and stunning games you will ever see. New England was supposed to ROUT the G Men and instead had the tables flipped on them, just like they flipped them on the Rams to start the dynasty. The Pats were one minute from perfection and instead had to spend the offseason asking "how?"

Giants 21, Patriots 17

Actually they had to spend longer than that, because in Week 1 the next season, Brady tore his ACL against the Chiefs. The Pats would go 14-2 in 2010, but lose in the first round of the playoffs to Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. 2011 featured the unleashing of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both in their second season. Coupling the two tight ends with Welker (1,569 yards) made the Pats unstoppable on offense, again, but in a different way. And again, they found themselves against the Giants in the Super Bowl, this time in Indianapolis. Revenge was on their mind, but Tom Coughlin and Eli had a different idea bout how things should go. The Pats were only -3 this time; Vegas learned its lesson from 2007. But the over (53.5) was still cranked up and so was the pressure on Brady. The Giants had a similar team, with tons of talent on the defensive line, and they put pressure on Brady throughout the game.

The week leading up to the Super Bowl was all about Gronk, who had suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season. He would eventually play, mostly as a decoy and the Pats offense once again struggled. The Giants jumped out to a 9-0 lead (first score safety, prop bet cashes huge!) but the Pats answered with 10 points in the second quarter. A third-quarter Hernandez touchdown -- the Pats scored with eight seconds left in the second quarter and with 11 minutes left in the third quarter because they always do that -- gave the Pats a 17-9 lead and, finally, an answer to their "long" Super Bowl drought. 

The Giants tacked on two Lawrence Tynes field goals in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 17-15. The Pats had Eli and Co. pinned late when history decided to repeat itself. Cue the Mario Manningham footage. 


via NFL Broadcast

This set up a touchdown by Ahmad Bradshaw -- the Pats let him score, but he shouldn't have scored but it worked out OK -- to give the Giants a lead. 

This was probably the greatest THROW of Eli Manning's Super Bowl career, but the Tyree catch was the better PLAY. 

Three underrated "WOW" moments from the ending of that game:

One, Bill Belichick challenged the Manningham catch, and who can blame him. I was in the stadium near the end zone where Manning threw the ball from and I was sure it was incomplete. But it did cost the Patriots a timeout. 

Two, prior to the play, Brady couldn't find Wes Welker on a 2nd-and-11 with four minutes left that would have sealed the game. Welker was wide open and got blamed for the drop by Gisele but Brady sort of missed him if we're being fair.

via NFL Broadcast

And three, the Patriots secretly almost won the game on a Hail Mary. Talk about changing history -- Gronk was on the field trying to haul in a midfield bomb from Brady and it nearly happened. Watch the play, there were two Pats players who got a look at the Hail Mary. It would have been the greatest ending to a Super Bowl we'd ever seen, and instead was a second time in just a few years the Giants took down New England.

Coughlin's reputation for being a Belichick Beater blossomed and the questions about whether the Patriots would ever win another Super Bowl (see: above) got fired up with a fury. 

Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

And here's where this gets really interesting, because the narrative could be VERY different right now. Imagine a world where the Seahawks beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX -- New England has its three titles but after losing a third straight Super Bowl appearance, people might really be questioning the Pats dynasty. That should have happened, except Pete Carroll and Darrel Bevell decided to let Russell Wilson throw instead of having Marshawn Lynch run.

One Malcolm Butler interception later and the Patriots were on top of the world again.

via NFL Broadcast

Let's get another angle because WHY ARE YOU PASSING PETE???

via NFL Broadcast

Just last year I ranked this the greatest Super Bowl ever played. I think that argument holds up. The Seahawks were coming off a 43-8 Super Bowl win the year before over the Broncos and were set to kick off their own dynasty with that dominant defense and Wilson at quarterback. They got their own version of the Tyree-Manningham catch before that interception, thanks to Jermaine Kearse reeling in this bananas catch:

via NFL Broadcast

No one talks about this catch at all because of how the game ended. No one mentions how the Seahawks stymied the Patriots early -- the game was scoreless in the first quarter. A second quarter Brandon LaFell touchdown reception from Brady started the scoring, with Lynch answering seven minutes later. I'm pretty sure Russell Wilson didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter either. But he made an unbelievable completion late in the first half, somehow helping the Seahawks score a touchdown to Chris Matthews with two seconds left in the half after New England got a touchdown with 30 seconds left.

The Seahawks took a 24-14 lead in the third quarter in this game; once again the Pats were trailing late and once again Brady had to work some magic. He did that, throwing a pair of scrappy short white guy TDs (one to Playoff Danny Amendola, one to Julian Edelman) in the final eight minutes of the game.

Seattle was going to answer and win the game. Everyone knew it. And then they passed the ball. In a game that was a pick 'em, it had all the drama you could ever ask for in a Super Bowl.

Patriots 34, Falcons 28

And, yet, New England saved the most drama for last. Or most recent anyway, with their Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons going down in almost impossible fashion. It set up to be a snoozer of a game, with the Falcons stomping the Pats. Once again, no points were scored in the first quarter as the two teams felt each other out. Once again, the second quarter went bonkers. 

The Falcons got a Devonta Freeman touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead, followed it up with a Austin Hooper touchdown catch to push the lead to 14-0 and then Robert Alford had a pick six of Brady to make it 21-0. You couldn't feel your face in that stadium. The Patriots were being stomped in a Super Bowl?? The Pats got a field goal before the half because the Pats always get a field goal before the half, but Tevin Coleman scored to make it 28-3 -- you may have seen that score before -- with less than nine minutes left in the third quarter. The game was over and everyone was writing their "Dan Quinn gets revenge for Seattle by building Baby Seahawks in Atlanta" columns. I was anyway. The Falcons had summoned an incredible defensive performance to dominate the Patriots on both sides of the ball and MVP Matt Ryan was about to claim the franchise's first Super Bowl.

Then Tom Brady happened. 

A third quarter score to James White cut the lead to 28-9 and gave us the "alright, if [X, X and X] happen, maybe this is a game" thought. A Pats field goal made it a two-score game and a Dont'a Hightower strip sack of Ryan shook everything up.

via NFL Broadcast

The Pats would follow that five plays later with a Danny Amendola touchdown pass, followed by a White two-point conversion, to make it 28-20. How did we get here??? Suddenly the Falcons couldn't breath. They still had the best offense in football, they still had the playmakers and they still had an eight-point lead. Get some first downs and it would be a tough situation. Get a field goal and the game would be over. 

Freeman picked up 39 yards on a pass from Ryan that opened up the lungs a bit. Two plays later Ryan hit Julio for the Falcons version of THE CATCH -- how does this happen to the Pats every time?? 

via NFL Broadcast

The Falcons were in field goal range at this point, but after Freeman was stuffed, Ryan dropped back to pass ... and GOT SACKED.

via NFL Broadcast

Oh no. The Falcons were called for holding on the next play and forced to punt. Brady got the ball down one score with more than three minutes left. You know how this story ends. 

There was drama left for the Pats, of course, with Edelman having to catch this ball:

via NFL Broadcast

Impossible. And yet, it all happened. It wasn't a rollercoaster so much as it was the Falcons going full "Thelma & Louise." 


Going against Tom Brady and the Patriots is just tough though. When they got the ball in overtime, the game was over. Everyone watching knew it and everyone in the stadium knew it. Brady and the Pats were scoring and winning the Super Bowl. 

Oddly enough, their only overtime victory -- and the first Super Bowl to ever go to overtime -- was the Pats biggest margin of victory (six points) in their lengthy history. 

Somehow, some way, they manage to shoot a heaping pile of drama into the biggest stage of the NFL season every single time they show up. 

Hopefully Super Bowl LII is no different. 

Original Article by Will Brinson at