By Brian Lee
BU News Service
In the final play of Super Bowl LII, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady evaded the Eagles’ pass rush, shifted to his right and heaved a desperation Hail Mary from his own 43-yard line.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was waiting in the end zone, cloaked by seven Eagles defenders.
After a few floating seconds, the ball was promptly batted to the ground, and with it, the Patriots’ hopes of winning a third Super Bowl in four years.
The final score: Eagles 41, Patriots 33.
What would have been the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl victory in eight appearances since the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era began in 2000 ended in disappointment.
Instead, it was the Eagles – and their backup-turned-starting quarterback Nick Foles – celebrating their first championship since 1960, six years before the Super Bowl’s inception.
Yet in both Foles and the flurry of green and white confetti that rained down at U.S. Bank Stadium were shades of a familiar story, one the Patriots should recognize well.
Foles’ rise to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player was remarkable and improbable.
He was selected by the Eagles in the third round of the 2012 draft and spent his first three years in the league with the team, which included a Pro-Bowl season in 2013.
In 2015, he was traded to St. Louis. He was released a year later and spent the 2016 season as a backup for the Kansas City Chiefs, appearing in only three games.
Last offseason, he re-signed with Philadelphia.
For most of the year, Foles was second on the Eagles’ quarterback depth chart behind incumbent starter Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft.
But late in the season, he was thrust into the starting job. Wentz suffered a torn ACL in his left knee against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14 and was ruled out for the year.
Under Foles, the Eagles finished the season 4-1, then beat the Falcons and the Vikings in the playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl.
And on the game’s biggest stage, he outshined the game’s greatest quarterback.
With the Eagles down by one with under 10 minutes left, Foles led a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took more than seven minutes and resulted in the game-clinching touchdown. It was the highlight of a night in which he completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
He even scored a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton late in the second quarter, becoming the first quarterback ever to catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
His performance was reminiscent of one 16 years ago, when a then-24-year-old Tom Brady led the Patriots to their first title against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Like Foles, Brady began that season as the backup, only receiving playing time after a serious injury to starter Drew Bledsoe.
He took his team into the Super Bowl as a major underdog against championship-tested quarterback Kurt Warner.
He led them on a game-winning drive. In the end, he was clutching the trophy as a newly-minted, unlikely MVP.
For his part, Brady was outstanding on Sunday, throwing for 505 yards on 28 of 48 attempts and three touchdowns. But it wasn’t enough.
While this loss will sting, the 40-year-old has given no indication that this season was his last.
The Patriots have already opened as the favorites to win Super Bowl LIII next season.
And so it goes.