Super Bowl LI

A beautiful, fitting reward for Brandon Graham

A beautiful, fitting reward for Brandon Graham

MINNEAPOLIS — A few days before Super Bowl LII, Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson sat at a round table in a dingy, poorly-lit corner of a giant empty storage room at the Mall of America and preached patience. 

He preached that even if his players weren't getting to Tom Brady for the first quarter or first half or even until the very end, they couldn't stop trying. Eventually their moment would come. 

He was right. 

"You don't get to beat the G.O.A.T. every day," Wilson said late Sunday night, wearing a smile to go along with his new Super Bowl champs gear as he walked out of the victorious locker room in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium. 

Brandon Graham listened to his coach. He was patient. After the Eagles hadn't sacked Brady all night, after they had barely gotten a finger on him, Graham pulled off one of the biggest plays in the Eagles' 41-33 Super Bowl win (see breakdown). His patience is a big reason there's going to be a parade down Broad Street (see celebration).

With just over two minutes remaining in Super Bowl LII, Graham came around and knocked the ball out of Brady's hands. From there, Derek Barnett was able to scoop it up and the Eagles were able to hold on for their first Lombardi Trophy (see Roob's observations)

"The main thing was, I told Brandon and Chris (Long) to just do their thing," Fletcher Cox said. "I told them to do whatever they want. I just tried to get a push up the middle to cause some disruption and [I told him to just do] what Brandon Graham does. Making plays. Those are the things we talk about, just playing together and sticking together as a unit. Nobody is trying their own gain. I think at the end of the day, that's what it came down to — everyone just playing together." 

Graham's sack was the only one the Eagles' heralded defensive line had all game. It was the only one it needed. 

Brady and the Patriots put up an astounding 613 total offensive yards, the most any team has ever had in a Super Bowl. And it didn't matter. 

"We don't care how many yards we gave up," Malcolm Jenkins said. "We were just trying to win."

As Brady and the Patriots spent most of Sunday night in a shootout with Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense, Graham and his defensive line teammates were just trying to heed the words of advice from their position coach. 

Stay patient. 

Stay patient. 

Stay patient. 

"We knew," Graham said. "We knew that Tom Brady was going to try to take us out of the game. We knew we were going to have an opportunity in there where he was going to have to hold the ball. We just kept working, kept working, not getting frustrated, we had to keep talking to each other. 'Hey, we're going to make a play, we're going to win this thing.' People believed and at the end of the day, we won the game and we just kept staying strong."

After Graham knocked the ball free and it was loose on the vibrant green turf that would soon be covered in Lombardi Trophy-shaped confetti, the Eagles needed a rookie to do his job. They needed Barnett to fall on it. 

"What's going through my head?" Barnett said, repeating the question. "Secure the ball. Secure the ball and then try to score."

Barnett wasn't able to get to the end zone, but the Eagles' offense got the ball back, killed some time and then the defense held once more.  

It's fitting in a way that Graham's patience paid off in the Eagles' Super Bowl win. For a former first-round pick, who was once deemed a bust, he's certainly come a long way. He's one of the best players on the team, he's one of the most disruptive defensive ends in football, he's become a fan favorite. 

And now he's a world champion. 

He just had to be patient to get there. 

"We about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!" Graham said. "I know they tearing it up now, but we about to come and tear it up some more."

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Vikings

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Vikings

BOX SCORE

I've said it all year. With Carson Wentz or without Carson Wentz, there is something special about this football team.

Inexperienced head coach? Backup quarterback? A guy named Big V playing left tackle? It doesn't matter. Because this is the ultimate team sport, and the 2017 Eagles are the ultimate team (see story).

Doug Pederson is their coach. Nick Foles is their quarterback. And they're headed to the Super Bowl.

Vegas can say this was an upset, but this wasn't an upset. The Eagles destroyed the Vikings Sunday night at the Linc, spotting them a 7-0 lead and then scoring the game's final 38 points to win the NFC Championship Game, 38-7 (see breakdown).

No contest.

Take that weak Skol crap back to Minnesota. We're taking over your city next week!

Here we go with an NFC Championship Game edition of Roob's 10 observations.

1. Foles is going to quarterback the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Just think about that for a moment or two (see story). What Foles has done since replacing Wentz is nothing short of astonishing. Forget the Dallas game in which the starters played only a quarter. The Eagles haven't lost since the NFL MVP got hurt. Foles was magnificent Sunday night, completing 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His pocket presence was off the charts, as was his accuracy. Foles has gotten more and more comfortable with each passing game, and this one was a work of art. That guy has been through so much, both this year and over the last few years. For him to play like that on this stage with so much at stake is just mind-blowing. I'm so happy for him.

2. What a masterful play-calling performance by Pederson (see report card). This is a guy who never coached a game above the high school level until 16 months ago. And he just put up 31 points on the best defense in the NFL in an NFC Championship Game with his backup quarterback. Pederson got Foles into a rhythm early, he was creative, he ran the ball enough and he dialed up some plays that were simply unstoppable. Pederson has grown so much in so many ways, but his flair for play-calling is just off the charts right now (see story).

3. Talk about a momentum changer. Patrick Robinson's interception and brilliant 50-yard return was the play of the game (see story). The Eagles trailed, 7-0, after the Vikings opened the game with a methodical 75-yard TD drive, and they had the ball again near midfield when P-Rob picked off Case Keenum near the left sideline at midfield, reversed field and ran across the field and into the end zone at the right pylon. It reminded me of Eric Allen's miracle 94-yard pick-six against Boomer Esiason and the Jets back in 1993. Not quite as remarkable but pretty darn impressive. Here's a guy who was on the brink of being released back in training camp, and he's done nothing but give the Eagles smart, heady playmaking in the slot all year. That's five INTs for Robinson, which makes him only the sixth player in franchise history with five INTs in a season after turning 30. The 50-yarder is the longest postseason pick-six by anybody in their 30s since Rodney Harrison's 87-yarder off Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. Robinson is so typical of this team. A guy nobody wanted. With his fourth team in four years. Making a play to help his team reach the Super Bowl. And let's not forget the pressure by Chris Long and the downfield block by Ronald Darby. That play was huge, and the Vikings never recovered.

4. Let's get one thing straight. This was not an upset. Maybe according to Las Vegas it was, but anybody who has watched the Eagles this year knows that in this building, it's going to take a superhuman effort by a Hall of Fame quarterback to put up enough points to win a football game in this building. Keenum made a few plays, but he was just overmatched. He was forced to throw 48 times, completed 28, got picked off twice and really did nothing after that TD pass five minutes into the game. Tremendous stuff from the Eagles' pass rush to make him uncomfortable and the secondary for blanketing some pretty good receivers.

5. Once again, the Eagles' offensive balance was one of their biggest weapons. Good luck trying to figure out where the ball is going. Alshon Jeffery was 5 for 85. Zach Ertz 8 for 93. Torrey Smith 5 for 69. Nelson Agholor 3 for 59. All four of those guys caught at least one deep ball. When Foles was having his All-Pro season in 2013, he always spread the ball around like this, and, man, this felt just like it. I thought Ertz was a beast, once again proving wrong everybody who says he doesn't get any yards after the catch. Jeffery, you could just see him and Foles developing more and more chemistry over the past few weeks, and he is such a weapon in the end zone. Smith had a bad drop early but made up for it with the TD on the flea flicker. And Agholor continues to just do his job. 

6. And think about this: The Eagles are the first team since the 1996 Packers to win the NFC without a 1,000-yard receiver or rusher. Who was on that 1996 Packers team? Doug Pederson.

7. The Eagles' defense heard the national media blabber all week about how the Vikings' defense was the best in the NFL, and then it went out and showed the world who actually has the best defense in the NFL. This was another monumental performance by the Eagles' defense, holding a decent Vikings offense to just seven points on one early touchdown. This Eagles defense just gives you nothing. It's playing incredibly well as a unit. Tremendous pressure. Consistent coverage. Terrific tackling. This unit has now allowed six touchdowns and 59 points in its last seven home games, which is absolutely absurd. The challenge will be more difficult on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, but the way this defense is playing, nothing would surprise me.

8. How great was it that after throwing the ball up and down the field all night, the Eagles were able to run the clock in the final minutes running the ball? After Corey Graham's interception with six minutes left, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement ran six times for 40 yards to run out the clock. The Eagles haven't been super consistent running the football the last few weeks, but even with that big lead and the Vikings crowding the line of scrimmage, they were able to run clock effectively and move the chains. Those three backs combined for 26 carries for 114 yards. That's going to be huge once they build up a big lead over the Patriots in two weeks.

9. Here's a list of quarterbacks in NFL postseason history who've completed 75 percent of their passes in back-to-back games: Joe Montana. And Foles.

10. Eagles-Patriots. Once again everybody is going to pick the Eagles to lose. Once again, I'm going to repeat this over and over and over: Doubt the 2017 Eagles at your own risk. 

Patriots advance to 8th Super Bowl in Brady, Belichick era

Patriots advance to 8th Super Bowl in Brady, Belichick era

BOX SCORE

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Give ‘em a hand: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Brady shook off a hand injury and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining , rallying the Patriots to a 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship Sunday.

Brady, wearing a black bandage on his right hand after needing stitches to close a cut that happened on a play during practice earlier in the week, showed no signs of being hampered.

And, with the game -- and the season -- possibly on the line, the Patriots star came up big again.

"I've had a lot worse," Brady said. "I didn't know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win."

Brady finished 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola for the Patriots (15-3), who'll play the Eagles in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

It's the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who have won five times -- including last year's 34-28 overtime rally against the Atlanta Falcons.

"It's pretty amazing. Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games, it's just a great accomplishment," Brady said. "I'm just so proud of everyone on our team, we made so many great plays. Defense played so great when they needed to."

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars (12-7) led 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold against the defending champions. The NFL's second-ranked defense kept Brady and the Patriots at bay for most of the game, but lost linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on consecutive plays on New England's winning drive.

"It's a locker room obviously with a lot of pain," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. "I'm sure they're hurting inside. I'm hurting. The players are hurting."

With New England trailing 20-17, Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to put the ball at the Jaguars 30. Brady hit James White for 15 yards, Amendola for 8 and then the quarterback ran up the middle for 2 yards and a first down.

On first-and-goal from the 5, White ran for a yard to set up the go-ahead score from Brady to Amendola.

Jacksonville -- looking to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history -- had one more shot, but Bortles' throw on fourth-and-15 to Dede Westbrook was knocked away by Stephon Gilmore.

"Guys are upset," Bortles said. "It's not what anybody expects -- contrary to popular belief. Those guys fully expected to win that game."

The Patriots ran out the clock, with Dion Lewis' 18-yard scamper with 90 seconds remaining sealing the victory. And they played most of the game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left late in the first half and didn't return.

Brady's hand was the most-scrutinized body part in Boston since his ankle before the 2008 Super Bowl, and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's right ankle tendon -- the bloody sock -- in the 2004 playoffs.

Brady hurt his right hand during practice earlier in the week.

"Of all the plays, my season wasn't going to end on a handoff in practice," Brady said.

"Mentally, it probably stressed him out a bit," Amendola said. "It's hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb. Everybody knows how tough he is."

Some Patriots fans were worried, but not Belichick.

"He's a tough guy, we all know that," Belichick said. "But we're not talking about open heart surgery here."

Brady warmed up without a glove on his hand, and he came out throwing. He completed his first six passes for 57 yards to march the Patriots down the field. The drive stalled when Brady was sacked by Dante Fowler Jr., and New England settled for Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal.

A wide-open Marcedes Lewis gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead 45 seconds into the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown catch from Bortles .

Leonard Fournette gave Jacksonville a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter with a 4-yard TD run, hushing the crowd at Gillette Stadium.

The Jaguars made some big mistakes just before halftime. Bortles completed a 12-yard pass to Lewis on third-and-7 from the Patriots 44, but Jacksonville was called for delay of game.

That wiped out a first down, and Bortles was sacked by Adam Butler on the next play to force a punt. Jacksonville was called for six penalties that cost the Jaguars 98 yards, while New England was penalized just once.

With just over two minutes left before halftime, New England's offense took over and the fans chanted "Braa-dy! Braa-dy!"

And their quarterback delivered -- with some help from two big penalties.

On first-and-10 from the Patriots 40, Brady threw a long pass for Gronkowski, who was injured when he got popped by Barry Church. Church was called for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball at Jacksonville's 45.

"It was a tough call," Church said, "but you've got to go with what they call."

A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference on the next play. The 32-yard penalty gave the Patriots the ball at the Jaguars 13. After a 12-yard catch by Cooks, White ran it in from the 1 to make it 14-10.

Josh Lambo gave Jacksonville a 17-10 lead 4:37 into the third quarter with a 54-yard field goal. He added a 43-yarder 8 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 10-point game.

But Brady & Co. were just getting started.

After Jacksonville went three-and-out following Jack's fumble recovery of Lewis, Brady and the Patriots offense came out with a sense of urgency.

They marched 85 yards on eight plays to cut it to a three-point deficit on Amendola's 9-yard TD catch with 8:44 left. Amendola had a 21-yard catch on third-and-18 from the Patriots 25 early in the drive.

"Big play in the game," Brady said. "Ended up being a huge drive for us."

Few flags
The Patriots' one penalty against the Jaguars is the fewest called on one team in a playoff game since the 2011 AFC championship -- when the Patriots were called for just one in a win over Baltimore.

Brady's bounce-back
Brady's passer rating during the first three quarters: 87.5. In the fourth quarter, it was 136.3.

Solid Jaguars
Bortles finished 23 of 36 for 293 yards and a touchdown in his first AFC title game. Fournette had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries.