Super Bowl LII had everything. Great players, spectacular plays, excitement, suspense, and even a fairy tale ending for those who like to root for the underdog. Well, the game had almost everything – if you care about stout defenses.
The key play of the game happened with 38 seconds remaining in the first half. The Patriots had just scored on a seven-play 90-yard drive, cutting the Eagles lead to three points.
The Eagles took over at their own 30 with 1:59 left in the half. QB Nick Foles continued his pinpoint passing with a finesse toss to Corey Clement, who rambled for 55 yards, down to the 8-yard line. Two runs by Clement gained seven yards, but a pass to Alshon Jeffery on third down failed to connect. With 38 seconds left, the Eagles faced a fourth down midway between the 1- and 2-yard lines. Coach Pederson called a timeout.
To the astonishment of the TV broadcasters, the Eagles came out without their field goal unit. Foles lined up in the shotgun position, with running back Clement behind him. Prior to the snap, Foles walked over and parked himself just behind his right tackle. The snap went to Clement, who swung to the left, then lateraled back to Trey Burton, who was running a reverse. Foles meanwhile drifted to the right into the end zone. Burton lobbed a pass to the quarterback, who had been left completely undefended.
Here’s how the broadcasters described it. Cris Collinsworth: Here we go, this could decide the game… Al Michaels: Trey Burton throws, caught, Foles, touchdown. How do you figure? They go to the very, very back of the playbook for the touchdown… Collinsworth: What a play call by Doug Pederson. This play call has a chance to be remembered as one of the all-time greats – just going for it… wow, what a call… Michaels: Doug Pederson, he’s going to be aggressive – that’s as aggressive as you can possibly be. Collingworth: One of the all-time gutsy calls right there… That’s breathtaking – in a Super Bowl, that’s a breathtaking call.
Yes, it was exciting, unexpected, and well executed. But was it really all that risky, aggressive, and gutsy? I don’t think so. With two weeks to prepare for the game, the Eagles planned well. The play had obviously been saved for just such an occasion. They had undoubtedly been practicing the play. Burton was a college recruit of the University of Florida and coach Urban Meyer – as a quarterback.
What was there to go wrong? Burton handled a routine lateral, and threw the pass well before the defense got near him. There was no chance of a knockdown by a lineman, as all he had to do was throw a lob. Receiver Foles had plenty of room to make the easy catch – he was left completely undefended and was nowhere near the sideline or back line. It was a simple play to execute. The only thing that could have gone wrong was if a defender had shadowed Foles – but no one did.
Because Doug Pederson had a play ready-made for the situation, his decision to pass up the field goal in retrospect seems pretty easy. It wasn’t a risky play at all – coach Pederson had an ace in the hole.