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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Six biggest disappointments of Super Bowl LII

Super Bowl LII loss

The New England Patriots scored 33 points, posted 613 yards, but it still wasn’t enough to make them winners in Super Bowl LII. It will be a bitter pill to swallow for a New England team that has dealt with its fair share of adversity during the latter half of the season, but ended up falling just short at the last hurdle.

Here’s a look at the six biggest disappointments from the game — from the Patriots to the NFL’s much-maligned catch rule.

1) New England Patriots’ defense

We spotlighted the defensive line, but really, the entire Patriots defense failed to step up when they needed to. If you’d have said Brady was going to put up 33 points on Philadelphia’s top-five defense, you’d have probably expected them to win. The Eagles offense went for 538 total yards, 374 of them through the air, and put up 41 points on the New England defense. New England had a rough time with the run-pass option, and particularly in the first half, they exploited a good matchup with Eric Rowe. This was almost certainly Matt Patricia’s swan song as Patriots’ defensive coordinator. It won’t be one he remembers fondly.

2) The catch rule

The NFL’s worst nightmare would have been their controversial catch rules becoming a major story on the Super Bowl stage. While the two plays in question weren’t as controversial as they could have been, it’s certainly a story now. Did Corey Clement maintain possession while completing the process of the catch? Was Zach Ertz a runner before crossing the plane? The NFL’s replay review said yes both times. They were, frankly, right to. Still, the scrutiny on the catch rule will only increase, and they’d be wise to deal with it sooner rather than later before something even more controversial happens on a stage like this.

3) Patriots’ defensive line

Full credit to the Philadelphia offensive line, but blame has to be assigned to the New England defensive front. Nick Foles wasn’t sacked once, and the Eagles had just four negative offensive plays all night. Foles was hit five times, two each by James Harrison and Trey Flowers, but pretty much nobody outside of those two players was able to generate any heat. The Eagles racked up 164 rushing yards, too, so they weren’t a lot better in that department. New England would have wanted to rattle Foles. In the end, the Philadelphia quarterback looked way too comfortable all night long.

4) Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriots’ kicking team

New England’s special teams had a rough first half, and it ended up mattering a fair bit in the second. Gostkowski missed a 26-yard field goal after a bad exchange, then went on to miss an extra point later on. Those were four points that the Patriots left on the board that were very attainable. Had they converted them and everything else went as it did, they could have had the ball left with a little over two minutes left down one point instead of five. Who knows what happens then?

5) The Malcolm Butler situation

What happened to Malcolm Butler? Only the New England Patriots know for sure, though we know Butler was not happy after the game. All we know is that the veteran cornerback didn’t play a single defensive snap due to what was called a coach’s decision. He was sick during the week, so perhaps that was a factor. Perhaps it was something else. Whatever the case, it had a huge impact on the Patriots’ secondary play. Butler’s replacement, Eric Rowe, really struggled as the Eagles targeted him aggressively early in the game. We may not get clear answers — this is, after all, the Patriots — but whatever the case, it was a net negative for New England.

6) New England’s late-game play

The Patriots were in a bad situation with 2:21 left to go in regulation, but they did have Tom Brady on their side down five. It was certainly a winnable game at that point. On the second play from scrimmage, though, Brady was sacked by Brandon Graham. The sack marked the first of the entire game for either team, and the strip allowed the Eagles to recover the fumble. Brady had another shot needing eight points with 1:05 left, but that started badly too. The Patriots horribly overthought the kick return and tried to put together a tricky lateral play, which backfired. They narrowly avoided a turnover and had to start back at their own nine, making a bad situation worse. It was too deep a hole for Brady to dig them out of, ultimately, but it almost looked like a rare bit of panic and desperation from the usually composed Patriots.

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