Pederson ruthlessly punishes Belichick's Butler gamble
Bill Belichick has made a career out of pouncing on the errors of others, but in Super Bowl LII, his mistake was punished by Doug Pederson.
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
That sentence has long been associated with French emperor Napoloen Bonaparte and they are words which New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has lived by throughout his incredibly successful NFL career.
Most recently the mistake that the Patriots have benefited from has been their opponents making ill-advised decisions when leading against the league's modern-day dynasty.
Last year in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons fell victim to the greatest comeback in NFL history by not running the ball and taking time off the clock and, two weeks ago the Jacksonville Jaguars paid the price for stepping off the gas after playing a near-perfect game in the AFC Championship, quarterback Tom Brady again rallying them from 20-10 down to earn a place in Sunday's showpiece in Minneapolis.
However, at U.S. Bank Stadium, Belichick met a commander in Eagles coach Doug Pederson who learned from the Jaguars' error in judgement and flipped the script as the Patriots were punished for a coaching mistake and denied a sixth Lombardi Trophy in a 41-33 defeat that secured a first Super Bowl title for Philadelphia.
Despite having to contest the playoffs with backup quarterback Nick Foles rather than starter Carson Wentz, whose MVP-calibre season was cruelly ended by a knee injury in December, Pederson has never wavered from his aggressive style of play-calling.
His show of faith in Foles has been rewarded with performances few thought possible from a quarterback who considered retirement after his ultimately unsuccessful first stint with the Eagles and spells with the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs.
And both Pederson and Foles must have been thrilled when the Patriots defense came on to the field with their best cornerback Malcolm Butler, the hero of their win in Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seattle Seahawks, not part of it.
Butler was benched from defensive duty with, Belichick afterwards offering little reason as to why beyond insisting he picked the players he thought gave New England the best chance of victory.
The Eagles will care little about the method behind Belichick's curious personnel decision, which they took full advantage of by dicing up a Butler-less secondary in a shootout that broke the Super Bowl record for yardage with 1,151.
However, while the benching of Butler will be under severe scrutiny in the days to come, it is the risks Pederson was willing to take on the biggest stage of them all that deserves greater focus.
For all the struggles Patriots had defensively, the Eagles, right up until the fumble forced by Brandon Graham that effectively clinched the game, had just as much difficulty stopping Brady, who racked up a Super Bowl record 505 passing yards and threw three touchdowns.
Pederson understood that every Eagles punt or field goal settled for would have been a shot in the arm for a Patriots team undaunted by any deficit or situation, and that was reflected by his fearless play-calling, which was best encapsulated by an extremely audacious fourth-down play late in the second half.
Running back Corey Clement took the snap and pitched the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who then astonishingly found Foles wide open in the end zone as he became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to catch a touchdown pass.
That put the Eagles up 22-12 at half-time and Pederson's nerve held on the most crucial drive of the game after the Patriots had taken a 33-32 lead.
Faced with a fourth down on their own 45-yard line and needing a yard to move the sticks, Pederson put the ball in Foles' hands and he again delivered with a stunning show of poise to find Zach Ertz and keep the drive alive.
Seven plays later Foles found Ertz again for a touchdown that put the Eagles up for the good. Having thrown everything at Philadelphia, Brady finally ran out of answers and, after being stripped by Graham, could only muster a failed Hail Mary in a desperate bid to force overtime.
Belichick has made a career out of allowing opponents to outwit themselves and capitalising. This time it was he who made the critical error in judgement and, unlike those before him, Pederson refused to let the rarest of opportunities slip through his fingers and delivered the trophy that has long since evaded the Eagles' grasp.