For every magical postseason comeback Tom Brady has orchestrated, there usually has been a quieter subplot: the shutdown ability of the Patriots defense.
Brady and the offense did their part Sunday, but New England’s defense simply could not stop Philadelphia’s offense — not once in the second half.
The game featured a Super Bowl record 1,151 yards of total offense and one punt, after an Eagles three-and-out in the second quarter.
“It’s crazy, I didn’t even know that,” Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “That’s not good for the defense.”
Philadelphia’s final five drives, starting toward the end of the second quarter, went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal.
The Eagles were 10-for-16 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down.
“In the end, we just couldn’t make enough plays, and that was all on me,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
For New England, it was a flashback to the beginning of the season, when the Patriots were 2-2 and giving up an average of 32 points per game. It was hard to tell New England led the NFL in scoring defense (14 points per game) after Week 4.
A few things conspired against the Patriots this time. First, they didn’t play starting cornerback Malcolm Butler on defense after he had been ill during the week. Safety Patrick Chung was shaken up and then left the game because of a reported concussion.
Linebacker Marquis Flowers also was hobbled early but remained in the game. He was covering Corey Clement when the running back made his dazzling 22-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Nick Foles.
“I’ve just got to cover him better,” Flowers said. “I’ve got to make a better play on the ball. He made a great catch. Nick Foles made a heck of a throw.”
Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
The Butler situation was the most curious. Belichick said it wasn’t a disciplinary decision and that it was strictly football related.
“We put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win.”
Gilmore admitted the decision by Belichick not to play Butler surprised him. Gilmore added that he found out “when you guys [in the media] did.”
“He’s a great player, so he could have helped us, maybe, I don’t know,” Gilmore said. “That’s how the game goes.”
Without Butler to help, Gilmore either had to cover Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery — his good friend from South Carolina — or leave it to Eric Rowe.
Jeffery finished with three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, though he didn’t have a reception in the second half.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said it’s always a process inputting the game plan, based on which players will be available to play.
“Those guys who go out there are trying to do everything they can to be ready to go, and Malcolm was doing everything he could to get ready, too,” Patricia said.
“So that’s just kind of some of the ways that that works out.”
Philadelphia’s defense couldn’t stop Brady, either, until Brandon Graham delivered his strip sack in the fourth quarter.
“Someone needed to make a play,” Brady said, “and those guys made it.”