By Steve Buckley
February 5, 2018
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski tries to catch quarterback Tom Brady's Hail Mary pass between Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Corey Graham and cornerback Jalen Mills in the last play of the Super Bowl LII at the U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. Staff photo by Matt Stone
MINNEAPOLIS — In a week, maybe two weeks, when they’re both good and ready, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can sit down and discuss their differences.
The real differences. The speculated differences. The imagined differences.
For now, they’re just as likely to discuss the point differential in last night’s Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Eight, as in the Philadelphia Eagles’ shocking 41-33 victory over the Patriots.
The outcome of this thriller, clinched when Brady’s desperate pass to Rob Gronkowski bounced into the end zone as time expired, does not change that the Belichick/Brady tandem has been history-making. But it’s going to raise a lot of questions.
Such as: Is Brady coming back?
“I expect to be back,” he said, cryptically. “It’s 25 minutes after the game ended, so I would like to process this. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be back.”
But he has to . . . process this.
And here’s the million-dollar Belichick question: On a night when Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles lit up the defense for 373 passing yards and three touchdowns, why was cornerback Malcolm Butler watching from the sidelines?
“I made the decisions that give us the best chance to win,” Belichick said, adding that it was a football decision and not a disciplinary action.
That’s a vague answer that would only have worked had the Pats won. That they lost, and gave up 41 points doing so, does not work.
Certainly not with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, I’m guessing.
Belichick also said, “It just wasn’t enough,” referring to the way his players and coaches “competed for 60 minutes.”
He could just as easily have been referencing his answer as to why Butler disappeared.
His answer just wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t enough for Butler, who told ESPN’s Mike Reiss, “They gave up on me. (Expletive) it. It is what it is.”
Yes, the Belichick/Brady tandem still has five Super Bowl championships to take into their old age, and Brady’s total numbers last night were nothing short of spectacular: 28-for-48 for 505 yards and three second-half touchdowns.
And yet . . .
We live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and anyone with a sore spot about Belichick and his snarly demeanor, about Brady and his too-perfect demeanor, about the 283 diamonds on last year’s Super Bowl rings and the whole danged Patriot Way, can now point to New England’s iconic quarterback coughing up the ball while being sacked.
And have a great, big laugh over that.
They can point to Belichick and say, “Where was Malcolm Butler?”
And laugh about that, too.
Brady was built for these moments. He’s done it a hundred times, or seemingly so. But after Zach Ertz caught an 11-yard pass from Foles with 2:21 remaining to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead, Brady lost the ball while being sacked.
And when Brady got it back for a last, desperate possession, that one died, the game died, the season died.
Surely, Eagles fans were mindful of what happened last year, when Brady and the Patriots turned that 28-3 deficit to Atlanta into 283 diamonds.
Surely, Eagles fans were mindful of what happened to Seattle two years earlier, when an unknown named Malcolm Butler — yes, that Malcolm Butler — made the biggest play in Super Bowl history.
None of that this time.
Deal with it, New England.
Have a ball, everywhere else in America.
Had the Patriots won, it’s possible Brady and Belichick might have gone out for a beer or two and settled all family business. They might have brought Kraft with them, whooped it up, celebrated. Maybe offered up a toast to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Now, we wait to see if last night’s outcome somehow re-opened that can of organizational worms about the future of the Patriots.
And for anyone who really, really, really wants to stick it to Brady and the Patriots — and, come on, many live for that — you’ll hear a lot about Brady not being able to make a reception when the Pats attempted a trick play in the second quarter. James White pitched to Danny Amendola, who lofted a pass to Brady, and it slipped off his outstretched fingers. Another reminder about how the Super Bowl has a way of creating weird story lines.
On fourth-and-goal at the Patriots 1, 38 seconds remaining in the first half, Eagles center Jason Kelce snapped the ball to running back Corey Clement, who handed off to tight end Trey Burton, who threw the ball into the waiting mitts of a wide-wide-wide open Foles.
Rest assured it’ll be a talker: The greatest coach in football history and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a trick play, calling for the greatest quarterback in football history to make a reception, and it did not work. Whereas second-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s trick play, calling for a quarterback — the backup until late in the season — to make a reception, did work.
Add it to the list of questions for when Belichick and Brady meet. In Robert Kraft’s office.
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