Super Bowl Preview


Super Bowl Preview
Feb 3, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The two quarterbacks took the Xcel Energy Center stage at the same time Monday night, greeting each other with a handshake before sitting alongside one another in leather chairs and staring at the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which rested in front of them.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady showed his comfortability in that setting, smiling and waving to the crowd that watched Super Bowl Opening Night as he walked onto stage in gloves and a black hat, seemingly not worrying about his appearance. It was also a familiar sight to the hundreds of reporters standing below the stage, as Sunday will be Brady’s eighth time playing in the Super Bowl, playing for his sixth title.

The man sharing facetime with Brady during captain introductions, meanwhile, didn’t think he’d be on that stage two months ago, even if the Eagles made the Super Bowl. In fact, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles didn’t even start holding press conferences until the middle of December.

Foles took over under center after Carson Wentz tore his ACL on Dec. 10. Foles led the Eagles to wins in their two playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. This year is his first time playing in the postseason since he lost to the New Orleans Saints in the 2014 Wild Card round.

On Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Brady will look to continue his own and the Patriots’ legacy, as New England has won two of the past three Super Bowls and five championships in the past 16 years. Foles is hoping to guide the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl while proving himself as a starter.

“This is a journey,” Foles said. “It’s not necessarily football experiences that have shaped me. It’s off-the-field stuff: Having a daughter, being married, having more responsibilities. The trials you go through, almost retiring. It had to do with the life stuff.”

With coach Bill Belichick and Brady, the Patriots have cemented themselves as one of the best dynasties of the Super Bowl-era, joining the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s Washington Redskins, 1990s San Francisco 49ers and 1990s Dallas Cowboys. All of those franchises won at least three championships in a 10-year span. The Patriots could be the first to win three championships in two separate decades.

While the Patriots have featured different future Hall of Famers over those years, Brady has been the constant. He’s been named the NFL MVP twice, and he might add another this season.

Brady has won 27 playoff games, 11 more than former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who has the second-most all-time. In last year’s Super Bowl, Brady propelled the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons for New England’s 34-28 victory. At 40 years old, Brady threw for the most yards in the league this year (4,577) and the third-most touchdowns (32). The Patriots averaged the most yards per game in the NFL (394.2).

“Being a target for Tom is a blessing,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said.

While the Patriots lost the 2008 and 2012 Super Bowls to the New York Giants, they’ve faced little competition in the AFC the past four years. While they trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars, 17-10, in this year’s AFC Championship, the Patriots rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points to win.

“I just love the sport, the competition,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of inner drive I was lucky to be born with.”

The Eagles, meanwhile, hardly receive opportunities like the one they have Sunday. Philadelphia won three championships before the NFL merger, and it lost its Super Bowl appearances in 1980 and 2004. The Eagles fell to the Patriots, 24-21, in 2004, when quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens were their offensive stars.

Philadelphia is one of 13 franchises that hasn’t won a Super Bowl.

The Eagles finished last in the NFC East in 2016, but behind Wentz’s improvement and a lockdown defense, they finished the regular season 13-3.

Still, some critics thought the Eagles’ championship ambitions were slim after Wentz’s injury. Foles was named a Pro Bowler in 2013, when he threw for 2,891 yards with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, but he’s since struggled.

The Eagles traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams in 2015, when the Austin, Texas, native threw 10 interceptions and seven touchdowns. He was benched for Case Keenum in November, and he was granted a release after the Rams drafted quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Foles spent his 2016 season as Alex Smith’s backup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Foles signed back with the Eagles in March, a move that proved beneficial when Wentz went down. Foles was familiar with the offense and had playoff experience. He led the Eagles to a win over the Atlanta Falcons by completing 23 of his 30 passes for 246 yards. That was Philadelphia’s first postseason victory in nine seasons.

Foles then threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship.

Much of Philadelphia’s success can also be traced to its defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game in the NFL during the regular season (306.5) and has surrendered 17 points in the postseason.

“I’ve been around these guys all year, and I can tell by the way they practice — the speed, the tempo, assignment sound, the energy level. Things like that lead me to believe because I’ve seen it all season,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “Now, that doesn’t tell you how they’re going to play, but it just tells you that they’re prepared.”

Brady said he’s not considering retirement, but he’s 40 years ago, and he’ll likely only have a few more chances for extra Super Bowl titles. Regardless of the result Sunday, Foles might not receive another shot at starting in a Super Bowl for the Eagles, since Wentz will likely take over when he’s healthy.

So, Sunday is a precious opportunity for both quarterbacks: One of whom is looking to add to his trophy case, and the other who wants to shock the country.

“I don’t want anything to get in the way of me being the best I can be Sunday,” Brady said. “There’s extra film work and practice. I need to be as prepared as I can be for the biggest game of the year.”

“I’m just grateful to be playing,” Foles said. “But then to come back to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that drafted me, the team that I love, the city that I love and never wanted to leave, it’s really special.”

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