Eight biggest disappointments of championship weekend
Super Bowl LII will feature the AFC champion New England Patriots and NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX. Things are very different now. The Eagles, in particular, are a completely different team than they were 13 years ago, and the Patriots have evolved since then.
Of course, two victors on Sunday means two teams are going home. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings came close to reaching the big game, but ultimately they’ll be watching from home instead of participating in it. One team fell at the very end, while the other was comprehensively blown out. The manner of the defeats were different, but the results will have both teams looking back all offseason and wondering what could have been.
Here are eight big disappointments from Sunday’s championship games.
1) Jacksonville’s fourth quarter offense
Given how often the Patriots seem to come back in playoff games, it’s hard to say their opponent is ever in a good position, even when winning. That said, the Jaguars were set up fairly well going into the fourth quarter. On the second play of the quarter, Josh Lambo hit a 43-yard field goal to put the Jags up 10. On the ensuing drive, Myles Jack forced a Dion Lewis fumble with a great play, giving Jacksonville the ball with 13 and a half minutes to go and a 10-point lead to protect.
The Jaguars offense went silent. Perhaps some of it was the New England defense, while there was also a desire to prevent Blake Bortles from turning the ball over. Whatever the case, Jacksonville was too predictable. The first down play was almost always a run, which the Patriots were all over. Bortles missed a few reads as well. The end result was that after the field goal that put them ahead 20-10, the Jags ran 17 plays for a total of 62 yards and failed to score another point. One more well-constructed drive could have made the difference.
2) Minnesota Vikings’ defense
Who saw a collapse like this coming? The Viking defense, heralded as one of the NFL’s better units all season long, was completely eviscerated by Nick Foles and the Eagles. No one had a good game. The numbers are mindboggling — the Eagles had 456 yards of total offense, 27 first downs, and averaged 7.1 yards per play. The Vikings had been so good on third down in 2017, but that fell apart on Sunday as well, with the Eagles going 10-for-14. It is unbelievable how bad this unit was on Sunday. The expectation was a low-scoring battle. The Philadelphia defense held up their end of the bargain. Minnesota gave up 38 points.
3) Case Keenum, QB, Vikings
Keenum got off to a very strong start, leading Minnesota down the field for a touchdown on their very first drive of the game. That was the last highlight he’d make on Sunday, as he turned the ball over three times. Later on in the first, pressure from Chris Long forced Keenum into a lame duck interception that was returned for a touchdown by Patrick Robinson. That tied the game at 7, but the biggest blow was yet to come. Late in the second quarter, with his team at the Philadelphia 16 and down by a touchdown, Keenum lost a fumble. The Eagles went on to score, a potential 14-point swing that more or less killed Minnesota’s chances. A garbage time pick rounded out his awful day in the fourth. Keenum has had a great season, but it ended on a lowlight to say the least.
4) Jaguars’ star corners
The big, decisive battle in this game was expected to be Tom Brady against the Jacksonville secondary, led by corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Rob Gronkowski missed the entire second half, which should have been good news for the Jaguars. It didn’t seem to matter, as Brady won the battle anyway. Bouye and Ramsey were not their usual dominant selves. Per ProFootballFocus, Ramsey gave up four catches for 72 yards on five targets, while Bouye was hit for four of five targets for 58 yards. Danny Amendola had a huge day. One would have figured that the Jaguars corners would have been able to put a stop to that, especially without the threat of Gronkowski, but it was not to be.
5) New England’s run game
If the Patriots were hoping a solid running game would take some pressure off Tom Brady and his injured hand, they did not get their wish. Rex Burkhead got just one carry and was a non-factor in the passing game. Dion Lewis fared better, getting nine carries for 34 yards, but his fumble in the fourth quarter was the only turnover of the game and briefly jeopardized New England’s comeback. Most of the offense in this one was put on Brady’s shoulders. He did pull it out, but with little help from the rushing game.
6) Everson Griffen, DE, Vikings
It may be a bit harsh to single out Griffen, as the entire Minnesota defense had a terrible evening in Philadelphia. Still, he’s been such a dynamic player for the Vikings, and his underwhelming performance Sunday was an example of Minnesota’s bad day. The team got little pressure on quarterback Nick Foles. Griffen hit him twice, but he didn’t have any tackles or sacks and was more or less neutralized into being a non-factor by the Philadelphia offensive line. Foles was given time to do whatever he wanted — and he picked apart the Vikings in response.
7) Harrison Smith, S, Vikings
It’s not hyperbole to say Smith has been the best safety in the NFL this season. Unfortunately, his season may be remembered more for his dud in the conference championship. If this play in which Smith gets destroyed by Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz isn’t emblematic of the evening, I don’t know what is. Smith was completed faked out by Ertz on a big gain. There were a stunning amount of open receivers for Philadelphia on Sunday, including some over the middle where Smith should have been. Like Griffen, he was far from solely responsible for this one, but he was also awful on Sunday.
8) Rob Gronkowski’s injury
The Patriots had to play the entire second half of this one after Barry Church’s controversial hit that knocked Gronkowski out of the game with a concussion. Ultimately, Gronk’s second half absence makes Brady’s achievement look even more impressive, but it’s a shame for Gronk, who only had one 21-yard reception before the injury. The good news is that he’ll have two weeks to get right before the Patriots face the Eagles in the Super Bowl. There reportedly is already optimism he’ll be cleared to play in the big game. But it’s a bummer for Gronk, who once again has an injury at Super Bowl time.