Eagles must make Brady human in fourth quarter
For three quarters in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tom Brady was made to look human.
Then, as has so often been the case, in the fourth quarter Brady flipped the switch, leading the New England Patriots back from a 20-10 deficit to a 24-20 victory and within touching distance of an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title for the star quarterback.
No player has won more than five Super Bowl rings and standing in Brady's way in Super Bowl LII is a Philadelphia Eagles defense comparable to that of the Jaguars, which – for 45 minutes at least – made him look like the 40-year-old quarterback he is.
Philadelphia's defense is certainly capable of making Brady look as uncomfortable and slow as he did two weeks ago, but the almighty challenge the Eagles have is to maintain such a performance through the final 15 minutes.
Against Jacksonville, Brady completed nine of 14 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars the latest victim in a familiar tale.
Brady holds the record for game-winning drives (11) and fourth-quarter comebacks (8) in the postseason in his incredible career, with two of those fightbacks coming in Super Bowl victories.
In Super Bowl XLIX, Brady overturned a 24-14 deficit against a Seattle Seahawks defense viewed as one of the greatest of the modern day with an utterly remarkable fourth quarter in which he completed 14 of 16 passes for 130 yards and two scores.
Two seasons later that performance was somehow bettered with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history as the Patriots came from 28-3 down to beat the Falcons in overtime.
Having completed just 61.7 per cent of his passes at 6.47 yards per attempt through the first three quarters, Brady completed 78.5 of his throws at 8.79 yards per attempt in the fourth quarter and overtime, inspiring the decisive 25-point avalanche against a young and fast Falcons defense that had markedly improved in the postseason.
Aiming to ensure the Eagles do not suffer the same fate is defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He was a personnel scout with the Cleveland Browns from 1993 to 1995, working for Patriots boss Bill Belichick, then head coach of the Browns, as a research assistant and scout, before eventually becoming the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. Schwartz later had a spell as head coach of the Detroit Lions and spent a year in charge of the defense with the Buffalo Bills.
"I can't say enough good things about Jim Schwartz," Belichick said at Opening Night. "He's one of the smartest people I know. He's a really talented person. I couldn't say a bad thing about Jim Schwartz."
"He did a good job in Detroit. He did a good job in Buffalo, and he's a good, good football coach. He started off in personnel, so he has a good understanding of player personnel, player development, those kind of things. I have a ton of respect for Schwartzy, he's one of the best guys I've worked with."
For all of Belichick's praise, in seven games as a head coach or coordinator against the Patriots, Schwartz has tasted victory just twice, the second of those victories coming in a late-season dead rubber with the Bills.
However, never has Schwartz had this much talent to work with. While the Jaguars have arguably the best secondary in the league and an intimidating defensive front, the Eagles have a greater depth of talent in the trenches, with enough quality pass rushers to suggest they should be able to keep the pressure on Brady for four quarters.
Brandon Graham, rookie Derek Barnett and veteran former Patriot Chris Long have had plenty of success providing the pass rush off the edge while defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has 9.5 sacks.
Cox's pressure from the interior should prove particularly difficult for Brady to deal with and, if he and the rest of the Eagles defense can produce the same 60-minute performance they put together in the NFC Championship Game demolition of the Minnesota Vikings, then another fourth-quarter revival may be beyond even Brady.