Monday Morning Digest: Dawn of the Eagles Dynasty
Offensive tackle Lane Johnson summed up the Eagles mantra simply during the hype leading up to Super Bowl LII: "Attack everything. Fear nothing."
The Eagles fearlessly attacked the Patriots for four quarters of one of the greatest Super Bowls in history, upsetting the five-time champions with a 41-33 win. And Digest has you covered with sights and sounds, news and quotes from an electrifying, historic evening at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
We'll learn what's so special about Philly Special, find out how Brandon Graham finally got to Tom Brady in the fourth quarter and even go deep into just how hard it was to sit and watch Justin Timberlake at halftime.
But first we look ahead. The Eagles did more than just win their first Super Bowl ever and their first championship since 1960. Super Bowl LII marked a turning point in NFL history, and the dawn of something even Philly fans might not be ready for: an attack-oriented, utterly fearless Eagles era.
The Eagles Are a Champion Built for a Repeat Performance
The last time Philly sports fans have seen anything resembling a dynasty—except for rivals who caused the Eagles and other teams decades of heartbreak and frustration, of course—was back in the days of the Broad Street Bullies, the legendary back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Flyers teams of the mid-1970s.
The Philly Phaithful may have just witnessed the birth of the city's next Bullies, their next perennial champions.
The greatest sports dynasty of the 21st century attacked the Eagles with everything it had in Super Bowl LII. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards. He engineered one of his signature fourth-quarter comebacks. But the Eagles, led by their second-best quarterback, both outlasted and, frankly, outclassed them.
The Eagles just won the Super Bowl with a spare quarterback. When Carson Wentz returns next season, they will actually be better. And Nick Foles isn't going anywhere, anyway, unless some team backs a draft-pick dump truck into a trade, so the Eagles remain insulated against any Wentz setbacks.
The core of the Eagles roster is under contract for the foreseeable future: Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Nelson Agholor, Wentz and many more. The Eagles are tight against the salary cap but have little shopping to do.
Just as importantly, the core of the Eagles coaching staff will return intact next year. While the rest of the league was gutting the Patriots staff, it ignored Doug Pederson's top lieutenants, Frank Reich (offensive coordinator) and Jim Schwartz (defense). Needy teams may still raid the assistant ranks of hot commodities like QB guru John DeFilippo, but most of the staff that developed Wentz and designed game plans that left Belichick and his proteges guessing for four quarters will be back on the Eagles sidelines next year.
Did we mention Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and a front office that seamlessly melds analytics and old-school scouting yet? How about second-round pick Sidney Jones, a potential shutdown cornerback who played just a handful of snaps this season?
The Eagles are the NFL's team of the future: bold, unpredictable, aggressive without being dumb, united on and off the field. They are cohesive and outspoken, brash yet disciplined, able to talk politics like statesmen, wear goofy dog masks, have fun in the locker room and get serious in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
And they just beat a Patriots opponent about to face a long-overdue midlife crisis. The times are in the process of changing.
Neither the Eagles nor their fans can think about the future right now. They—we—have waited a lifetime for just one Super Bowl parade.
But other parades may be coming. So ask your parents and grandparents about the Broad Street Bullies, Eagles fans. Or ask a Patriots fan, once they recover from the shock of Sunday. They'll tell you that while championships are sweet, dynasties are even sweeter.
MVP of Super Bowl LII: Nick Foles
Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady in a shootout. Think about that.
A backup quarterback who nearly quit football after coping with the Jeff Fisher experience two years ago threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, catching another touchdown on a trick play, just weeks after even Eagles diehards assumed that Carson Wentz's ACL tear would leave the team in the one-and-done playoff dustbin.
It was an almost flawless, breathtaking effort, right down to an answer-back touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. No one has ever beaten Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl in quite this manner before. No one expected the Eagles to win if it turned into a back-and-forth fast-break basketball game...except, perhaps, the guys in the Eagles locker room.
What they said
"He's amazing. The past three weeks, he's been playing out of his mind. ... The stage was never too big for him all year. He did the same thing that we expected him to do tonight." — tight end Zach Ertz
"I felt calm. ... We felt confident coming in, and we just went out there and played football. We've been playing this game since we were little kids. We dreamed about this moment." — Nick Foles
Foles may well be playing elsewhere next year, but let's save tomorrow for tomorrow. He joins an exclusive list of quarterbacks who started the season as backups but went on to win Super Bowls. That list, as you have no doubt heard, includes a fellow named Tom Brady. He also joins some extremely elite company. Philadelphia has precious few sports champions. Foles is now one of them.
Signature Play of Super Bowl LII: Philly Special
Facing 4th-and-1 before halftime, Doug Pederson decided not to make his usual daring, borderline-insane go-for-a-touchdown decision. Instead, he chose an unusually daring, utterly insane go-for-a-touchdown trick play code-named Philly Special.
Nick Foles walked behind Lane Johnson pre-snap, apparently to order some protection adjustment, and then froze in place (to avoid a false start) like a background extra in a high school play. Corey Clement then took a direct snap and pitched it to tight end Trey Burton, who floated a pass to Foles for a stunning touchdown that served notice to the Patriots: Even their A-game might not be good enough this time.
What they said
"Coach has got some guts, huh? It shows that he has confidence in the team." — Trey Burton
"We drew it up a couple of weeks ago. ... This week, we spent a lot of time on it. But for coach to call that play in that situation—are you kidding me?" — offensive coordinator Frank Reich
"You guys don't realize how athletic Nick Foles is. I can throw it up there, put it anywhere, and I had confidence that he would go get it." — Trey Burton
The Patriots have grown used to opponents getting conservative against them in high-leverage situations (see: the Jaguars kneeling before halftime two weeks ago or the Falcons getting the mega-yips in last year's Super Bowl). Doug Pederson and the Eagles out-Patriots'd them with aggressiveness, creativity and, yes, guts. Philly Special will go down in Philly sports history, and the NFL's copycats will also take note of how the newest champions went for broke on fourth down and came away with a win.
Turning Point of Super Bowl LII: The Strip Heard 'Round the NFL
Tom Brady got the ball trailing by five points with 2:21 to play. The Patriots offensive line had been manhandling the great Eagles front four for the entire game. We've seen this movie a few times before. It ends with Brady hoisting a trophy.
Except the Eagles defense flipped the script this time. Brandon Graham stripped the ball from Brady's hand, Derek Barnett gobbled up the loose ball and the turnover put the Eagles in position to both munch some clock and kick the field goal that ultimately put the Super Bowl out of even Brady's reach.
What they said
"We knew that Tom Brady was going to try to take us out of the game. But we knew we were going to have an opportunity where he would have to hold the ball. We just kept working, not getting frustrated, telling each other we gotta keep coming, we're gonna make some plays and we're gonna win this thing. And people believed that. We just kept staying strong." — Brandon Graham
Just about anyone who predicted an Eagles upset assumed that the pass rush would be a key to victory. That turned out to be true—not in the way we expected (constant pressure to keep the game low scoring), but by saving the biggest play for when it mattered most.
Most Valuable Unit of Super Bowl LII: The Eagles Running Backs
LeGarrette Blount rushed for 90 yards and one touchdown. Jay Ajayi rushed for 57 yards on nine carries. And undrafted rookie/greater-Philly-local Corey Clement caught four passes for 100 yards out of the backfield, including a back-of-the-end-zone touchdown after beating double coverage.
What they said
"It was just natural instinct. It wasn't anything that had to be drawn up. Coach puts people in positions where they can excel. They stayed in outside zone, so I just kept pressing. Nick did what Nick did—he kept the play alive, and he believed in me, believed in a rookie. So thank you, Nick, for putting me in that big-time moment." — Corey Clement on his touchdown catch
"We have a competitive environment, but we want to see each other succeed at the same time. We challenge each other to be the best we can be. ... I think that showed tonight with all the running backs who played in this game. Everyone played a part." — Jay Ajayi
Blount was a Patriots discard with a rep as a one-trick pony who was available for a song in free agency. Ajayi arrived in a trade from the Dolphins with a malcontent reputation. Clement went undrafted. It's a testament to both the Eagles front office and their coaching staff (including running backs coach Duce Staley) that this committee jelled into an effective, harmonious unit capable of keeping the Patriots off guard in the Super Bowl.
Sights and Sounds of Super Bowl LII
Some thoughts from a breathtaking night in Minneapolis that don't quite fit anywhere else.
• The Eagles benefited from two borderline What's a Catch? touchdowns, plus a Malcolm Jenkins blow that knocked Brandin Cooks out of the game, which probably should have been flagged. Conspiracy theorists who think that the Patriots get all the calls will have a hard time explaining this one.
• Rob Gronkowski took over the game briefly, catching four passes and putting an amazing end-zone move on Ronald Darby to start the second half. Chris Hogan also took over a drive for the Patriots. And their offensive line dominated the Eagles front four for most of the game. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia better pack his bags and be in Detroit by sundown Monday, because it's no secret who needs to accept responsibility for this loss.
• How much of an Eagles crowd was there at U.S. Bank Stadium? Fans booed Eli Manning and Jason Witten during the Walter Payton Man of the Year ceremony. Booing charitable contributions because Giants and Cowboys made them is next-level Iggle-dom.
• A video roll call of players who passed away in 2017 was shown on the stadium jumbo screen a few hours before kickoff. Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who took his own life in prison while serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder, was included among those honored. Hernandez's name appeared on a "slide" with several obscure ex-players which flashed briefly across the screen, while other famous and recent players were honored with individual slides, photos or brief highlights. This may be more recognition than you feel Hernandez deserves, but it's also important to note that it was a name flashing on a screen, not some career retrospective or sizzle reel.
• Among the celebrities in attendance: Bradley Cooper, wearing an Eagles shirt (but not a DeSean Jackson jersey); Jimmy Fallon, who spilled his drink when he appeared on the jumbo screen (that material is gold, Jimmy); Guy Fieri (standing with Raiders owner Mark Davis, talking haircut tragedies no doubt); Steph Curry (sitting in the stands outside three-point range); J.B. Smoove (who is hard to avoid during Super Bowl week); Jennifer Lopez (nothing snarky to say here, folks); and the cast of This Is Us (unrecognizable because they were not crying their eyes out over some family tragedy).
• Donnie Wahlberg was also in attendance and held up a Patriots sneaker in the fourth quarter to verify that he did not leave when the Patriots trailed at halftime. Wahlberg's current whereabouts are unknown.
• Justin Timberlake and 40-foot tall holographic Prince tore up halftime, but that light show in the crowd was no cakewalk to orchestrate. Here's a rough paraphrase of the detailed instructions fans were given twice about how to deploy their little rave trinkets:
Fans in the lower bowl, locate your wristband and lanyard. Raise them when they light up. Hold them still. Perfectly still. Seriously, if they wiggle, even to the beat, the tiny nuclear reactors in your wristband and lanyard will melt down. Fans in the upper bowl, locate your flashlights and attach them to your index fingers, big toes and the undersides of your nipples. Point all of them at the field, but only when instructed, or we’ll call a 15-yard penalty against your team. (Etc., etc., for about 10 more minutes.)
Hall of Fame Class of 2018 Digest
A quick look at the executive and players who were voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, plus a peek ahead to next year:
Bobby Beathard, Executive
Beathard was the architect of the great Redskins teams of the 1980s and the successful Chargers of the early 1990s—a shrewd evaluator of small-program talent known for getting maximum value out of late-round draft picks. Before Beathard, franchises often traded bunches of draft picks for aging veterans because the draft was considered such a crapshoot. Beathard was among the innovators who ushered in a more analytical era in team construction.
Robert Brazile, Linebacker
The perennial Pro Bowler was a terror at 3-4 outside linebacker for the 1970s Oilers. Brazile, Curley Culp and Elvin Bethea—worthy enshrinees, to be sure—have all been inducted in recent years from those Oilers teams. Perhaps the Seniors Committee should look around at some other underrepresented franchises from that era. (Yes, Broncos fans, we see your hands up.)
Brian Dawkins, Safety
The four-time All-Pro was one of the most ferocious safeties in NFL history and the leader and tone-setter for the great Eagles teams of the early 2000s. Dawkins' induction breaks a logjam of Hall of Fame candidates at safety, paving the way for John Lynch's induction next year and creating space on the ballot for Ed Reed, LeRoy Butler and others.
Jerry Kramer, Guard
Kramer was an All-Pro guard for the Lombardi Packers and star of The Ice Bowl. With Kramer finally inducted, the Hall can close the book on the 1960s Packers once and for all, and Broncos defender Randy Gradishar inherits the mantle of Most Snubbed Old-Timer.
Ray Lewis, Linebacker
The most dominant defensive player of his era.
Randy Moss, Wide Receiver
One of the greatest big-play threats in NFL history, Moss led the league in receiving touchdowns five times and was a key player on some of the best offenses in history, including the 2007 Patriots and 1998 Vikings. He was also the second-flightiest wide receiver on this year's ballot. There were whispers entering Saturday's committee meeting that Moss' not-always-team-first reputation would hurt him. It seems that was something most committee members thought other committee members were thinking.
Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver
You know the drill here: overwhelmingly qualified on the field, but a concentrated voting bloc held T.O.'s endless peccadilloes with coaches and quarterbacks on multiple teams against him. Moss' presence on the ballot created a fish-or-cut-bait situation for hardliners. Making T.O. wait a year or two for his sins is one thing, but selecting a similar receiver over him would be too much of an outright snub.
Brian Urlacher, Linebacker
The 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Pro was the captain of a Bears defense that reached the 2006 Super Bowl and had other playoff seasons with quarterbacks who made Blake Bortles look like Captain Reliability. The only question about his candidacy was whether he would have to wait a year for Lewis.
• This is one of the best Hall of Fame classes in years, as well as one of the most unassailable lists of final selections. Getting Moss and T.O. through really wipes away the quasi-moralistic element of the voting which weighed the committee down in past years.
• There is now a massive logjam among offensive linemen, with Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson splitting the ballot. With the overqualified linebackers and receivers out of the way, there should be space on future dockets to start queuing these guys up.
• An early prediction for the class of 2019: Faneca, Tony Gonzalez, Edgerrin James, Ty Law and Lynch.
The Super Bowl Week That Didn't Stick to Sports
Social justice, activism and protests against police violence and racial inequity shared the spotlight with Super Bowl LII this week.
Hundreds of thousands of words (like the ones in this feature by Newsday's Bob Glauber) were written about Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Torrey Smith, the Eagles trio of outspoken activists who fielded questions about everything from Charlottesville to Colin Kaepernick when not talking about the big game against the Patriots. Was it a "distraction"? It would be a distraction for Jenkins to not be talking politics and social justice during the week before a game.
At Friday's town hall meeting of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), a panel featuring NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent and active and former NFL players shared some details of the new $100 million agreement between the NFL and the Jenkins-founded Players Coalition. That deal caused a schism within the Players Coalition, as Jim Trotter and Jason Reid detailed for The Undefeated on Friday. But Vincent made it clear that the money was not a buyout to silence the players.
"We've got to keep encouraging the players to stand for what you believe in," Vincent said. "We've got to keep encouraging the owners: Supporting your players is the right thing to do. We gotta keep praying, and encouraging commissioners. I know it's not easy, but it's the right thing to do."
There were rallies and protests throughout the weekend on the fringes of the high-security Super Bowl perimeter. Just blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Take a Knee Nation held powerful workshops about racial justice, led by mothers (shown above) who shared heartbreaking stories of losing their young sons to police violence.
"If we live in the society that we think we live in—if we live in a fair, civilized and democratic society—then police violence simply cannot stand," said Mel Reeves, organizer of Take a Knee Nation. Other like-minded groups also protested before the game.
With everyone from star players to grieving mothers to Roger Goodell's top lieutenant talking about social justice this week, it's getting hard to characterize the movement as a bunch of malcontents, sons-of-you-know-whats, etc. But some will try. So Jenkins delivered a simple message this week to those who try to label racial justice protesters as un-American.
"I would say that the guys that put their jobs and reputations on the line to better their communities are more American than anybody you know," Jenkins said.
Super Bowl Week Around-the-League News Digest
News and notes from Super Bowl week:
Imagine leasing a luxury car for two years and realizing you only sorta like that luxury car. Then you discover that keeping the now-used luxury car is more expensive after leasing than if you just bought the thing outright. So of course you go out and purchase an older, slightly less luxurious model that will still cost you an awful lot of money. Now you're managing your life the Redskins way!
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Redskins may franchise-tag Cousins in pursuit of a sign-and-trade deal.
Now, imagine driving to the dealership in that second car you bought and announcing that you just might keep the car you leased in the garage unless you get a better trade-in offer. The Redskins buy a lot of deluxe detailing and undercoat packages is what we're saying.
With Newsome gone, who will draft all of those Alabama defensive players? Oh yeah...everybody.
Roger Goodell plans to simplify the Catch Rule.
Wait...this is a good idea. How did a good idea creep into a Roger Goodell press conference?
With Peterson and Carson Palmer gone, the average age of the Cardinals offense will drop from "fossilized" to [the precise age of Larry Fitzgerald when you read this].
The collarbone isn't where he keeps his feelings about losing quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.
The NFLPA is preparing for "war" when the collective bargaining agreement expires.
It will be like the medieval battle in those light-beer commercials. Just replace "Dilly, Dilly" with a four-month work stoppage in 2021.
Ultimate Offseason Power Rankings Digest
Monday Morning Digest signs off for the season with our exclusive, inarguable and devastatingly accurate 2018 offseason power rankings!
1. Eagles: Their core is under contract and their coaching staff should return almost fully intact next season. Also, Carson Wentz. The only thing standing in their way is the historic sense that Philly cannot have nice things.
2. Patriots: Their coaching staff is now gutted and their quarterback turns 41 in August. It's almost enough to drop them all the way to No. 3.
3. Saints: Think of them as the 2012-15 Broncos: They have a legendary quarterback, an up-and-coming defense and made one boneheaded mistake in the postseason to cost themselves a Super Bowl run—but have some great things on the horizon before Drew Brees hangs 'em up.
4. Steelers: Step 1: Get everyone speaking to one another again. Step 2: ???? Step 3: Overtake the Patriots.
5. Vikings: This is going to be one of the toughest multiple-choice tests at quarterback in NFL history.
6. Jaguars: It's about 50-50 as to whether they become the 1985 Bears and destroy everything in their path or implode after a three-interception Blake Bortles game in late September.
9. Seahawks: Another: "Russell Wilson Struggling to Adjust to Brian Schottenheimer's Offense" is a headline many of us will write in late October while somehow managing to avoid succumbing to mass insanity.
10. Titans: Mike Vrabel inherits 12-4-caliber talent and a 1974 high school playbook. His first job will be to burn the playbook.
12. Chiefs: A veteran team putting lots of faith in an exciting-but-inexperienced quarterback.
13. Texans: An injury-plagued team putting lots of faith in an exciting-but-inexperienced quarterback.
14. 49ers: A developing young team putting lots of faith in an exciting-but-inexp…OMG JIMMY GAROPPOLO IS THE NEXT BRADY MANNINGFAVRE. HOW DARE WE NOT RANK THE 49ERS NO. 1?
15. Falcons: They will rank four spots higher if the players mutiny and let Mohamed Sanu call the plays.
16. Packers: A healthy Aaron Rodgers and 52 middle-school flag football all-stars would rank in roughly the same slot.
17. Chargers: They could rise next season the way the Saints rose this season if they find a kicker and stop converting their home stadium into an Airbnb.
18. Cowboys: Somewhere between the giddy highs of 2016 and the travesty of 2017 lies wisdom. It's a shame Jerry Jones doesn't do "wisdom."
19. Bears. Great running backs, a very good offensive line, some defensive assets, the cap space to upgrade the receiving corps and a new head coach who won't treat the quarterback prospect like a street urchin from a Dickens novel. Look for the Bears to start slowly but rise quickly.
20. Ravens: Here's what you can say: This is a professional football team that plays its home games in Baltimore, Maryland.
21. Bills: Their plan to simultaneously win now with Tyrod Taylor, build for the future without Tyrod Taylor and do everything possible to signal their dissatisfaction with Tyrod Taylor will once again result in a canoe paddling in circles in the middle of the lake.
22. Bengals. An organization dedicated to exploring all the possibilities between 6-10 and 10-6.
23. Raiders: Get ready to relive the glory of Jon Gruden's mid-2000s Buccaneers.
24. Redskins: This is the best team that atrocious planning could possibly assemble.
25. Dolphins. Hey, Ryan Tannehill is coming back. Remember Ryan Tannehill? The Dolphins quarterback before Jay Cutler? That guy who did, like, something that one time?
26. Broncos. Shhhh. They think they are just a quarterback away from the Super Bowl. No one tell them the truth.
27. Giants: Trying to get drastically better and chart a bold new direction while changing as little as possible.
29. Cardinals. New coach. No quarterback. Top wide receiver posing for the cover of AARP brochure. At least Patrick Peterson lit up the Pro Bowl.
30. Buccaneers. All they need to compete is a pair of pass-rushers. Oh yeah, and a coaching staff.
31 Jets: Year 4 of the start of the Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan era starts the way the other three years started: with a quarterback search.
32 Browns. It would be easier to get excited about their beaucoup draft picks, cap space and rebuilt front office if it wasn't so obvious that they plan to fire Hue Jackson at the very first sign of trouble.