GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Eagles were 30 minutes away from a second Super Bowl win over six seasons when something changed.
“It was just [Patrick] Mahomes making plays,” veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said.
Down 10 points at halftime the eventual Super Bowl MVP turned on the efficiency button in the second half, leading Kansas City to four scores in four possessions in what turned into a 38-35 shutout win when Harrison Butker delivered on a 27-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining.
Mahones, who was also the NFL’s regular season MVP, was hardly splashy and his longest completion was for only 22 yards but the superstar confounded the Eagles with his playmaking ability and mastery of the offense.
Understanding the Eagles’ pass rush was the best in football with 78 sacks over 19 games, Mahomes and Andy Reid developed a game plan in which the football would be out of Mahomes’ hands quickly.
That only ramped up in the second half after the Philadelphia defense came out relatively strong early in the game. After Rihanna’s performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, though, Mahomes finished 13 of 14 with two passing touchdowns while making sure the ball came out quickly to mitigate the impact of Haason Reddick and Co.
The slippery turf at State Farm Stadium did the rest as the Eagles second-ranked defense failed to find any answers as the game started slipping away.
“I’m not going to lie, it was the worst field that I’ve ever played on,” Reddick said. “It was very disappointing, it’s the NFL. You would think it would be better so we could get some better play, but it is what it is. … If you said I’d beat my man a couple of times, just try to turn the corner, I was slipping.
“I just couldn’t turn the corner. So, I mean it is what it is, I’m not making excuses.”
Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach in Arizona, often talks about winning first and second downs so you get the opposing offense into known-pass situations. His defense did that brilliantly in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco but faltered in the second half against the Chiefs.
When Kansas City did reach third down in the final two quarters, the average needed to convert was under four yards, something Reid attributed to the effectiveness of his running game.
“Yeah, so we were able to get the run game going a little bit,” Reid said. “I thought the offensive line did a nice job of stepping up (as well as) (running back
Isiah) Pacheco and (running back Jerick) McKinnon. They ran hard.”
Reid also out-schemed the Eagles’ defense in the red zone, shaking loose Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore for easy fourth-quarter TDs.
“They had some good plays schemed for us,” cornerback James Bradberry said.
While Butker technically won the game, it was lost for the Eagles with 1:54 remaining and the game deadlocked at 35 when Bradberry got a little too handsy with Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 3rd-and-8 play from the 15-yard line.
Had the Eagles held KC to a field goal there, Jalen Hurts, who had a spectacular game, accounting for 374 yards of total offense and four TDs (three rushing and one passing) would have had plenty of time to tie the game or win it.
Smith-Schuster feigned an in-breaking route before pivoting outside and Bradberry got some jersey before also putting his arm around the hip of the receiver as he turned upfield.
A flag was thrown.
“Pulled the jersey. He called holding,” Bradberry said. “I was hoping they would let it ride. But it was holding.”
Referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter that “there was no debate” when it came to the penalty.
“The receiver went to the inside and he was attempting to release to the outside,” Cheffers said. “The defender grabbed the jersey with his right hand and restricted him from releasing to the outside. So, therefore, we called defensive holding. … It was a clear case of a jersey grab that caused restriction.”
And just like that, a special season was over for Philadelphia, a Field goal away from its ultimate goal.
“You either win or you learn, that’s how I feel,” Hurts said. “You either win or you learn.”