Andy Kirkaldy: Eagles were the smarter team on Super Sunday

The first thing that needs be said about Sunday’s Super Bowl is congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans.
As a former long-suffering Boston sports fan I know how those folks in Philly feel to see the end of a long drought: Iggles supporters, please enjoy the moment.
Second, the Eagles deserved to win what was an entertaining game. Usually the Patriots prevail, and deserve to do so, because they are the smarter, better-prepared team that makes fewer mistakes and better decisions.
On Sunday the Eagles were the team that fit that description, from start to finish:
•  They scored on eight of 10 possessions, and it would have been nine of 10 if not for a fluky interception.
•  They made the correct percentage decisions to gamble on fourth down twice, and executed properly both times.
•  Their game plan kept the Patriot defense guessing all game long (not that that appeared to be much of a challenge) and played to their quarterback’s strengths.
•  They did not get conservative with the lead, a fatal mistake made by too many Patriots’ victims over the years.
•  They made a clutch play at the end to seal the victory, much like their opponents had in recent Super Bowls.
Meanwhile, the Patriots made too many mistakes:
•  They left points on the field on their first two drives, settling for a field goal on the first after some questionable play-calling and poor execution, and botching a chip-shot field goal on the second after they, unlike the Eagles, did not go for it on fourth-and-short. Those mistakes would come back to haunt them later in the game.
•  They missed tackles consistently, including on third-and-six on a crucial late-game drive by a fourth-string cornerback. More on that later.
•  Unlike they had to teams all season, they failed to pin the Eagles deep on kickoffs. Special teams were not crisp.
•  They consistently used five or six defenders to rush the quarterback on defense despite that tactic’s abject failure to pressure Eagle quarterback Nick Foles and the fact that doing so gave him easy targets in the passing game. Foles had an overall quarter back passer rating (QBR) of 106.1, according to ESPN. According to The Washington Post it rose to 133.2 against the blitz.
(I spent much of the game shouting at former rocket scientist Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to stop blitzing. Apparently he didn’t hear me. At 8:56 p.m. on Sunday I posted on Facebook “Would someone please tell Patricia the freaking blitz is not freaking working.” My Eagle fan friend Gary responded, “Keep bringing it.”)
•  Oh, and as readers might have heard, the Patriots benched their second-best cornerback and former Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler, just before the game. In his absence, according to Zoltan Buday of Pro Football Focus, Foles racked up a QBR of 131.3 against Butler’s main replacement, Eric Rowe, and 118.8 each against Nos. 3 and 4 cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards, each of whom surrendered crucial third-down completions.
That curious decision to bench Butler deserves more than a bullet point.
Coach Bill Belichick and Patricia both insisted the decision was made to put their best defenders on the field. A sample from Patricia: “We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had.”
OK, sure, and I have some wetlands in Cornwall to sell you at a price you can’t refuse.
Except that Butler led the Patriots by playing 98 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season, and is probably the team’s best tackling cornerback. Suddenly he’s not good enough to play in the championship game?
Belichick also said the move was not related to any disciplinary issue. I might believe that. Discipline could be a more plausible reason than performance, but if discipline was the reason why did he dress at all? The Patriots certainly could have used another receiver (one was hurt during the game, of course, by a hit that should be illegal and warrant an automatic ejection, but that’s a story for another day), defensive linemen or linebacker.
So what are we left with? Well, Butler will be a free agent and refused a while back to sign a team-friendly contract. Was Belichick, also the team’s general manager, sending a message to his team?
Any guess is just that, a guess. But for sure the Patriots owe their fans an explanation. Like many sports fans my family spends $170 a month on cable, something that would not be necessary if we didn’t watch sports, and buys tickets and team gear. And sports stadiums are subsidized by taxpayers, including Gillette Stadium to a degree.
Fans deserve more from the Patriots on a decision — again, not to take away from an Eagles team that on that day made the smarter moves and deserved to win — that might have changed the course of the Super Bowl.
Like former Patriot Rob Ninkovich told ESPN, “You need good players on the field to execute. Bill (Belichick) says it all the time, Bill will say it in interviews, ‘Coaches don’t win games, players do. Coaches lose games.’ At the end of the day you have to have your best players on the field and you question if Malcolm not being on the field is the best option to win the football game.”

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