NFL players say there is no pain like losing the Super Bowl. The hurt hits immediately. You wake up with an empty feeling that probably lasts forever.
Imagine the Eagles’ pain after they lost a very winnable Super Bowl on Sunday. The game was there for the taking — not guaranteed, but the Eagles were in a great place to win.
But game MVP Patrick Mahomes was unstoppable in the second half, scoring on all four possessions against a feeble Eagles defense, as the Chiefs won Super Bowl 57, 38-35.
A ticky-tack holding penalty on James Bradberry set up the Chiefs’ winning field goal, and the Birds’ season ended in a bitter fashion. The Eagles were frustrated over the loss and even more frustrated for the opportunity squandered.
- “That’s what he called. I know it always appears that it’s one call. It’s not what it is,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said about the holding call.
- “There are so many plays that contribute to the end result of the game. And today, they were better than we were.”
It was a dreadful way for the game to end for the Eagles and a controversial way for it to end for the NFL. The game was tremendous, back and forth, between the NFL’s two best teams.
Bradberry admitted he held the receiver. But, holding basically happens on every play in the NFL. To make that borderline call with less than two minutes to play dishonors the valiant play from both teams.
- “I’m not going to get into it whether they got it right or wrong,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce, a viewpoint echoed by quarterback Jalen Hurts. “I’ve said this before: I’m never going to put blame or anything on officials. It’s a hard job. They make a call. It is what it is.
- “There were multiple other moments in that game to take care of business.
- “We were close. We could have won that game without that call being the determining factor.”
Mahomes was a machine in the second half, well protected by his impressive offensive line that held the vaunted Eagles’ pass rush far away.
Until the Bradberry penalty, the game was a shining example of what makes the NFL so popular. Both teams executed and moved the ball. The stars were outstanding. The hitting was ferocious.
Hurts played brilliantly, certainly well enough to win. His uncharacteristic fumble in the first half was returned 36 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 14.
Hurts completed 27-of-38 passes for 304 yards and one touchdown. He gained 70 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns on the ground.
- “It’s frustrating,” Kelce said. “I’m proud of all my teammates. It was close. We didn’t get it done. It’s frustrating not to win but it is what it is. You move on.
- “I thought we played hard. Jalen played a helluva game. That’s probably the only reason we were in it.
- “I’m happy with the way we played offensively.”
Mahomes, who came into the game with a high ankle sprain, was injured toward the end of the first half. But if he was injured, you couldn’t tell by the way he picked apart the Eagles’ defense in the second half.
The Eagles’ defense, which ate all season on putting pressure on the quarterback, couldn’t get near Mahomes in the second half. The Chiefs’ offensive line protected Mahomes and even gave running room to rookie Isiah Pacheco, who gained 76 valuable yards.
Everyone knew the Eagles had to stop or contain Mahomes. With the success of the Eagles’ defense, that theory seemed plausible. If any team could stop the Chiefs, the Eagles looked like a likely candidate.
But that didn’t happen. Mahomes was too much. The Eagles didn’t blitz Mahomes, instead trying to get after him with their four linemen. Even when Mahomes was eating them alive in the second half, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon didn’t seem to adjust the defense.
The Eagles’ special teams, sketchy at times during the season, allowed Giants castoff Kadarius Toney to return a punt 65 yards in a one-point game. The Chiefs were in business at the Eagles’ 4 and soon stretched their lead to 35-27 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Hurts rallied the Eagles and led them on a remarkable, eight-play, 75-yard drive that brought the Birds to within 35-33. Hurts ran in the two-point conversion, almost willing himself to get through would-be tacklers to tie the score with 5:15 to play.
And the game that everybody said would be a great one, surely was, with the promise of a legendary ending.
If an NFL team scores 35 points, the expectation is a victory. Unless you’re going against Mahomes, who had three touchdown passes and went 13-of-14 in the second half.
The Eagles were the superior team in the first half and they showed it. They moved the ball at will, kept Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense mostly on the bench, and their powerful lines controlled both lines of scrimmage.
The Eagles led, 24-14 at halftime. Their prospects looked bright. A Super Bowl victory was 30 minutes away.
“It’s a tough feeling when you come up short,” said Hurts, who deserved a better fate.