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Super Bowl LII was one of the best ever

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Philly. Special.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As if the joy of the Eagles winning the Super Bowl wasn’t enough, the manner in which they did and quality of the game itself has some saying it was one of the best Super Bowls ever. Certainly, no Eagles fan would complain. Super Bowl LII had a few things perhaps holding it back from being one of the best ever, but it had plenty of arguments that it was.

Cons

Let’s get the cons out of the way, because while there aren’t many, they’re not to be ignored.

No defense

There was no defense in this game. None. It set the record for total yardage in an NFL game. The Eagles 41 points was the eight most in Super Bowl history. The Patriots 33 points were the most by a losing team. There was one punt, and both turnovers had a degree of luck as the ball bounced into the hands of defenders. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that an all-time great game should have a little bit of everything. A defensive play did have a big role in the game when Brandon Graham sacked Tom Brady and Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. Further, Rodney McLeod’s tackle of Brandin Cooks’ hurdle attempt was a highlight play, Malcolm Jenkins’ knockout hit of Cooks was a factor, and the Patriots interception kept New England in the game. But that was it. For the rest of the game neither defense did a thing worth mentioning. For the total package of entertainment, this game isn’t going to satisfy everyone.

Key special teams plays were awful

Going in to the game it was thought that special teams might give the Patriots an advantage. That thought was nearly right, special teams gave the Patriots a disadvantage. Both teams missed an extra point, but the Patriots also missed a field goal. Ultimately neither miss by New England decided the game, but had Tom Brady’s Hail Mary fallen into the hands of a Patriot, it could have cost them the game. Great special teams plays are exciting, but nobody wants to see bad ones.

Pros

It came down to the last play

Any game that comes down to the last play, even if it’s a low percentage one, is usually a sure sign of a good game. There’s been quite a few Super Bowls that were effectively over by halftime, and sometimes a hold your breath finish is the result of a great fourth quarter after three quarters of unmemorable play. Super Bowl LII kept everyone’s interest from the opening kickoff until the clock struck :00, the biggest lead was 12 points, and it lasted for 1:24 of game time. That alone puts it on the short list.

It had the defending Super Bowl champions… who are hated

There a lot of recipes for a great Super Bowl. When it has the defending champs, that’s a pretty good ingredient. Seeing the king knocked off or their claim to the throne strengthened is, in the grand scheme, exciting. In this game, it was the possibility of the latter that was attractive. The Patriots are universally loathed by the fan bases of the 31 other teams, which only increased the experience. No “I’m just hoping for a good game” sentiments—just about everyone who isn’t a Patriots fan was rooting for the Eagles. While Cowboys, Giants and Redskins fans didn’t want to see the Eagles win, nobody that wasn’t already a Patriots fan was truly excited to see the Patriots win. Across the board emotional investment only increases the appeal of the game.

A record setting game

As noted earlier, this game set the record for total yardage. Not just in the Super Bowl, but in a game. That doesn’t automatically make it a great game, as the previous record in a Super Bowl was from the Redskins 42-10 pounding of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. But it’s another good ingredient. Shootouts are fun, and this was the shootout of Super Bowl shootouts.

Memorable plays and performances

Tom Brady was outstanding as a passer (as a receiver, not so much), and Nick Foles matched him punch for punch. Rob Gronkowski had a huge game, and Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Corey Clement and Alshon Jeffery had big contributions.

Big and great plays are a byproduct of great games, and this one certainly had them. Five of the game’s nine touchdowns were for over 20 yards. Zach Ertz’s touchdown to take the lead was an instant addition to Eagles lore.

And then there’s Nick Foles’ touchdown reception. It’s not hyperbole or recency bias to say that it was one of the all time great plays in the Super Bowl. The down, distance, play call and execution were all massive. Some of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history came out of nothing, from Marcus Allen’s 74 yard touchdown to David Tyree’s helmet catch. But this play had everyone on the edge of their seat from the moment Foles got the play and went back to the huddle. The decision alone to go for it made great. That it was a trick play took it to another level.

Doug Pederson

Which brings us to Doug Pederson. Pederson wouldn’t have been the first or last coach to choke in a huge game. We saw it last year when the Falcons had a 28-3 lead midway through the 3rd quarter and then ran the ball 5 times. We saw it a few years before that when “Riverboat” Ron Rivera put his money under his mattress and never once went for it on fourth down in a game he was always trailing in. We saw it with the Jaguars in the AFC Championship when they took two knees to end the first half.

The spotlight was in Doug Pederson’s eyes and he never blinked. He went for it on fourth down twice in spots where other coaches would have brought out the special teams. With the lead and with seconds left in the half with the Patriots set to take the ball to start the 2nd half, he went for it rather than take the easy 3 points. That alone was bold, to then go with a trick play was the stuff of legend. Only Sean Payton’s onside kick compares for big moves in a big spot. The best coach of his era, perhaps of all time, got outcoached. When the battle extends beyond the field in an already exciting game, you’ve got a hell of a game on your hands.

And this was a hell of a game, and it really was one of the best Super Bowls ever.

That the Eagles won.