The quarterback wearing No. 11 went down for the season, but somehow a little-known backup and an unheralded coach led their team to the franchise’s third Super Bowl appearance.
In the big game, they were underdogs against an unstoppable force.
No Drew Bledsoe? No problem. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick pulled off the upset over the Rams — nicknamed the Greatest Show on Turf — to earn the New England Patriots’ first Super Bowl title. It was one of the best sports moments of my life.
Sixteen years later, Nick Foles and Doug Pederson will help the Philadelphia Eagles do the same thing to the mighty Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
No Carson Wentz? No problem.
It’s not the same thing, you might be saying.
But it’s exactly the same thing. Or, at least, it’s enough to not count them out Sunday in Minnesota.
This Super Bowl also has similarities to Super Bowl XLII. Remember that one, back in Feb. 2008? The New York Giants used a superb defensive line to derail the Patriots’ not-quite-perfect season.
The Eagles, too, have an outstanding defensive line, which will be facing an offensive line that none of us has much confidence in.
Therefore, Brady will probably need to make some quick decisions against one of the NFL’s best defenses at forcing turnovers. During the regular season, Philadelphia forced 31 turnovers — nearly two per game. They intercepted 19 passes, which is more than one per game.
Philly’s offense doesn’t quite measure up to New England’s, but it’s still one of the league’s most formidable.
The Eagles in the regular season were third in points scored, one point behind the second-ranked Patriots. Philly’s overall yardage ranks second, but it has balance, including the NFL’s third-best running attack. That should take some of the pressure off Foles to be productive on every single down.
You know who else had a good running game? The Jacksonville Jaguars, who ranked No. 1 in the regular season, and whom the Patriots barely beat in the AFC Championship.
A friend of mine, who is a Patriots fan, told me last week that he thinks this is the worst Patriots Super Bowl team of this century.
That argument can easily be made, and that belief is especially dangerous to the Patriots because they haven’t been a great Super Bowl team.
During most of the 1990s, the Super Bowl was a joke. Pretty much every game was a blowout and there was hardly any excitement.
Fortunately, blowouts haven’t been a problem when New England has been involved.
Over the past 17 years, this is the eighth time that the Brady-Belichick Era Patriots have played in a Super Bowl. Last year’s six-point win over the Falcons was their largest point differential out of the first seven trips — and that game went to overtime.
Many of our fellow Americans are sick of the Patriots going to the Super Bowl. Not me, because they usually don’t play all that well and so we’re pretty much guaranteed a good game.
I said this same thing last year, and I was right. New England bombed in the first half. If the Falcons made a couple of different play calls late in that game, they’d have a Vince Lombardi in the trophy case at their fancy new stadium.
The exact same thing can be said about the AFC Championship two weeks ago. The Jaguars had the Patriots right where they wanted them, but they went too conservative too early and allowed New England to make a comeback.
Don’t expect the Eagles to make the same mistake as the Falcons and Jaguars. Pederson, in only his second year as Philadelphia’s coach, has earned a reputation as a risk-taker. If the Eagles take a 28-3 lead, their focus will be on adding seven more rather than on holding onto a 25-point lead.
One other thing: Pederson is 1-0 against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He was Brett Favre’s backup on Jan. 26, 1997, when Green Bay beat New England 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI.
Speaking of backups, they have a pretty good track record in Super Bowls. Jeff Hostetler, as Phil Simms backup, led the Giants to a Super Bowl win over the Bills. Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer, Jim Plunkett join Brady as quarterbacks who started seasons as backups but ended up guiding their teams to Super Bowl victories.
Nick Foles is the key player in Super Bowl LII. If he plays well, the Eagles will win by double digits. If he struggles, Philly still has enough to pull off a close win over the Patriots.