Super Bowl Recap: How Did Philly Lose This Game?

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs captured their second Super Bowl in four years with a 38-35 win over the Eagles (Photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder).

I think it’s a fair question given the circumstances and the numbers. A dominant first half in which the Eagles out-first-down-ed the Chiefs 17-6, outgained them 270-128, and held the ball for almost 22 of 30 minutes. And yet, one ill-timed fumble return for a touchdown and overturned deep pass kept the Chiefs in the game long enough to believe.

At 24-14, “all” that was needed was an opening-drive touchdown by the Chiefs to start the second half. Once the game was within three points, the pressure seemed to weigh on Philly. The Chiefs started to sniff out the QB draw, and another big punt return by KC — this one from Kadarius Toney — completely turned the tide.

And then, of course, the holding call at the end. It was a hold, albeit a ticky-tack call. Even James Bradberry said it was. But that call didn’t lose Philly the game. Letting the Chiefs hang around, and a defense that racked up 70 regular-season sacks not generating a single one, was the Eagles’ undoing.

So what about Jalen Hurts? You could make a case that Hurts was worthy of MVP consideration, even in a losing cause. Philadelphia’s defense — or lackthereof — and Kansas City’s superior coaching proved to be the difference.

So where do we go from here? The Chiefs have won two titles in three appearances over four years, with five straight home AFC championship games. “The new Patriots,” indeed. But will they continue to dominate the AFC? Actually, history says they just might. Consider this: since 2001 (22 seasons), 19 different quarterbacks have started a Super Bowl for the NFC compared to just seven (!) in the AFC. Moreover, four of those quarterbacks have started at least three, while just three NFC quarterbacks have started two Super Bowls (Warner, Eli Manning, Wilson). Save for a couple of cameos by former Delaware signal-callers and Joe Burrow’s debut last year, Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, and Mahomes have completed dominated the AFC landscape. On the flip side, the likes of Rex Grossman, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, and Jimmy Garoppolo have started under center for NFC teams on Super Sunday. Why has one conference had so much parity compared to the other?

For starters, look at some of the inept AFC franchises clogging up the field. The most egregious offenders are the Browns, Texans, Jets, and Raiders; not far behind are the Dolphins, Jaguars, and Chargers. Granted, the latter three all made the postseason this past year, but only the Raiders have actually cracked the big dance — 20 YEARS AGO. With endless quarterback carousels seemingly plaguing half of the AFC field, and the AFC West falling flat on its face after an offseason of supposed upgrades, it’s hard to envision the Chiefs being challenged very much next year. The Bengals are really good but must fix their O-line. The Bills need to learn to get out of their own way. The Ravens need to solidify their future quarterback. Outside of that, hope isn’t exactly springing eternal.

In the other conference, the Eagles figure to be right back in the hunt, but they will have plenty of competition. All postseason jokes aside about the Cowboys (if you can resist for just a moment), Dallas always has a chance to contend for the division crown during the regular-season. The Giants are on the rise, and even the Commanders are no pushover (as evidence by their Monday night win at Philadelphia). The 49ers should be right back near the top, while there are a number of upstart teams elsewhere in the conference, with the Seahawks and — dare I say — the Lions pushing towards relevance. It’s completely logical to think that the Eagles may take a step back next year and find themselves fighting just to win the NFC East again.

From a more historical perspective, this was a gut-punch for Philly. Five years ago the Eagles won their first-ever Super Bowl, the last time a team won its first Super Bowl in franchise history. But the Eagles are now 1-3 on the big stage, while the Chiefs move into an elite class of teams with three or more Lombardis. 10 NFL clubs now have at least three championships since 1966, when the Chiefs were on the losing end of the first-ever Super Bowl (it was known then simply as the “AFL-NFL Championship Game”). Patrick Mahomes is now a two-time championship QB, one of 13 multi-winning QBs, and Andy Reid becomes the 14th coach to win at least 2 titles. Will this be the end for Reid? Probably not, but what better way to go out on top than beating your former team in the Super Bowl?

Furthermore on the Chiefs, a good starting point for the rest of the AFC to catch up would be keeping Kansas City from getting a first-round bye. Mahomes has never started a true road playoff game, with his three Super Bowls representing the only postseason games he has played outside of Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes has a long way to go to catch Tom Brady (35 playoff wins), but at 11-3, Mahomes has won more postseason games through year five as a starter than Brady (10), and Brady had already played three road playoff games by that point. Roethlisberger also won two Super Bowls in his first five years as a starter, but appeared in only one the rest of his career. Right now, Mahomes may not end up with seven rings like Brady, but he is out-pacing Tom Terrific in a few other areas, and is still ahead of the successes of Roethlisberger and Manning, who did not even reach his first Super Bowl until year nine.

Back to this game for a moment, though. Philadelphia wasn’t terribly undisciplined, but its penalties all came at horribly inopportune times. A false start on a QB sneak preceded Hurts’ untouched fumble that was returned for a TD; an offensive PI call on Zach Pascal forced an eventual punt; and of course Bradberry’s holding call essentially ended the game. Chris Jones talked after the game about trying to stop the QB draw in the second half, and it forced Hurts to dance around more in the pocket. A few of his runs went absolutely nowhere. He played tremendous football, but when KC needed to ramp up the pressure, it did.

Still, the defense (and to an extent the special teams) were the real culprit. This Super Bowl reminded me a bit of 2003 in Houston with the Panthers and Patriots; in that game, Adam Vinatieri missed two short field goals early, but was the hero with his 41-yard game winner at the end. In that game, the talk for two weeks was about how the Patriots would block Carolina’s fierce defensive front. They ended that game with zero sacks. This time around, it was Butker atoning for an earlier miss with the game-winning chip shot. This time around, it was Philly’s nearly-historic sack parade laying a giant goose egg in the Super Bowl when even just one takedown could have saved the day. And a defense that looked stifling against New York and San Francisco failed to make even one stop of the Chiefs in the second half, allowing 24 points on four possessions. So just remember that before you point to the questionable penalty on Bradberry’s as being the reason the Eagles lost this game.

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