By Matt Citak
For the residents of Philadelphia and New England, yesterday could not have gone any better.
The day started with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick proving to the world once again that they are the greatest quarterback-head coach pair in NFL history. Despite being down 20-10 in the fourth quarter and playing without their All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (concussion), Brady and Belichick remained calm and did what they do best. By the time the fourth quarter came to an end, the Patriots were celebrating their 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and their second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
In the City of Brotherly Love, the game was not as close. After going down 7-0 to the Minnesota Vikings within the first few minutes of the game, the Eagles rallied to score 38 unanswered points to punch their tickets to Minneapolis. The win left the city of Philadelphia jumping for joy, as Super Bowl LII will mark just the third time the Eagles have made it to the big game (and could serve as the first Super Bowl Championship in the franchise’s history if they pull off the upset).
If you’re a fan of the Patriots or Eagles, then you are still riding on cloud nine after yesterday’s games.
But for the rest of us?
The absolute nightmare scenario has fallen perfectly into place.
First let’s start with the Evil Empire. Although the Patriots entered the game as eight-point favorites over the Jaguars, things did not look good for New England after Josh Lambo connected on a 43-yard field goal with 14:52 left in the fourth quarter to give Jacksonville a 10-point lead. Not only was it now a two-possession game, but the Patriots were also playing without Gronk, who left the game in the first half with a concussion, against one of the best defenses in the NFL, and with Brady having double-figure stitches on his throwing hand.
But not even all of those factors combining in a perfect storm could stop the well-oiled machine that is the New England Patriots, as Brady found Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with just 2:48 left on the clock. Yesterday’s come-from-behind win extended Brady’s NFL record for most Super Bowl appearances by an NFL player to eight, and will provide the future Hall of Famer an opportunity to set the mark for the most Super Bowl wins by an NFL player at six. Both Brady and Belichick broke numerous NFL records with the win yesterday (or extended their own previous records), including becoming the winningest coach and QB tandem in postseason history.
It now feels like the early-January ESPN report about trouble between Belichick, Brady, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft came out years ago, doesn’t it?
In most scenarios, the Patriots making yet another Super Bowl (eighth time in the last 17 seasons) would cause everyone outside of Foxborough to be pulling hard for the NFC representative in the big game. The Patriots and their fans have already witnessed five Super Bowl parades this century, while no other NFL franchise has won more than two championships in that same span. With the amount of success the Belichick and Brady-led Patriots have enjoyed, it’s time to let another team hoist the Lombardi Trophy, right?
Well, the Philadelphia Eagles’ threw a big wrench into that plan with their improbable postseason run, and have left fans all across the country praying that Super Bowl LII can somehow end with neither team winning.
The Eagles were not supposed to make it this far. After starting quarterback Carson Wentz was lost for the season due to a torn ACL in Philly’s Week 14 win over the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles limped into the postseason. Despite earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC, no one gave Philadelphia a chance in their first two playoff games against the Atlanta Falcons and Vikings. The Eagles were listed as the underdogs at home in both the Divisional Round and in the Conference Championship. But an amazing defensive performance against the Falcons last weekend earned them a 15-10 victory, setting up yesterday’s matchup against the Vikings.
Leading up to the game, Minnesota had everything going for them. Just one win away from being the first team in NFL history to play for a Super Bowl in their home stadium, all the Vikings had to do was beat backup quarterback Nick Foles. Led by Case Keenum under center, it seemed like destiny would help guide the journeyman quarterback to victory after the “Minneapolis Miracle” got them a win over the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round. One more win against his former teammate Foles, who started just three games during the regular season, would give the 29-year-old Keenum a chance to complete his Cinderella season by defeating the Patriots at home. With quite possibly the best defense in the NFL, this did not seem like a tall order, especially after getting out to an early 7-0 lead. But a pick six from Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson would get Philadelphia on the board, and from that moment on, the Eagles never looked back.
Foles made Eagles fans temporarily forget about the injury to Wentz, as the Austin, Texas-native completed an astounding 78.8 percent of his passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against a defense that ranked second in the NFL with only 192.4 passing yards allowed per game during the regular season. Foles’ performance, combined with yet another outstanding effort from the Eagles’ defense, gave Philadelphia an easy 38-7 victory, and left the rest of the country with an awful taste in their mouth.
Instead of being able to root for Keenum and the Cinderella Vikings in Minneapolis on February 4th, we are now left with an unbearable decision- which team do we cheer for?
Do we pull for the evil New England Patriots, who have enjoyed more success in the last few years alone than most NFL franchises have in their entire existence?
Or the Philadelphia Eagles, whose fans celebrated last night’s win by pelting the Vikings’ team bus with beer cans as it was pulling away from the stadium?
Do we get behind the Patriots, who are looking to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl Championships in NFL history with six, and whose fan base has already begun planning the team’s Super Bowl Parade in downtown Boston?
Or do we support the Eagles, who, for the second consecutive week, had a fan of the team get arrested for repeatedly punching a police horse?
New England, whose team is just a few seasons removed from the Deflategate scandal in which Brady and the Patriots were accused of deliberately under-inflating footballs during their AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts?
Or Philadelphia, whose police department was forced to cover the city’s light poles with Crisco in an attempt to prevent its fans from climbing the poles following the game (a plan that failed miserably, might I add).
As a lifelong New York Giants fan, I have had nightmares about this Super Bowl scenario occurring since the start of the season. Now that it has actually happened, I can honestly say that it feels much worse than I ever could have imagined. As much as I love the NFL, I can’t help but agree with what Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted during the second half of the NFC Championship Game.
Another Eagles TD … on behalf of New Yorkers I will petition NBC to black out Super Bowl 52 on Channel 4 and show the “Sound of Music” instead.
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) January 22, 2018
So ladies and gentlemen outside of New England and Philadelphia, fasten your seat belts- it’s going to be a very long and unpleasant two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.