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The Debrief

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Super Bowl Debrief: Doug Pederson's calls lift Eagles to title

MINNEAPOLIS -- "Coach has got some guts!"

That's what Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton thought after hearing the Eagles' play call of "Philly Special" on fourth-and-goal late in the first half of the franchise's first Super Bowl win on Sunday night.

It will be a night that remains special in Philly for as long as football is played, in large part because of coach Doug Pederson's willingness to go for it and his players' ability to execute his aggressive vision.

"That was the talk all week long," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He kept telling the staff, he kept telling the team all week, we are going all out for 60 minutes -- that was the theme."

Over and over in Super Bowl LII, the moment called for Pederson and his charges to pass on playing it safe -- and they kept delivering. Here's a look at three moments where the Eagles showed they were so much more than the usual Patriots playoff foil, displaying a rare blend of confidence and aggression that earned the Eagles their first NFL championship since 1960.

1) Philly Special. Scoring to close out the first half was the Patriots' go-to move all season, but it was the Eagles who mastered the clock in so many situations Sunday evening. The Patriots left too much time on the clock for Nick Foles (really!) late in the second quarter when they scored to cut the Eagles' lead to 15-12 with 2:12 left in the first half.

Foles put the Eagles in position to score, but it appeared they'd have to settle for a field goal when they were unable to punch the ball into the end zone on three straight plays near the goal line. Then came "Philly Special," which called for Burton to pass to Foles.

"Bro, you're talking fourth down, Philly's never won a Super bowl and you are calling for a pass to the quarterback? ... Have you ever seen a play call like that in the Super Bowl?" Burton asked rhetorically, knowing that it's just Pederson's style to do so.

Burton believes that it wasn't a risky play anyhow. In practice, he says it works every time no matter how accurate his pass is.

"You guys don't know how athletic Foles is. I just throw it up there and put it anywhere. Even if he's covered, he's going to go get it," Burton said in a collection of words that no one ever expected to hear about Nick Foles.

2) Foles' fourth-and-1 completion to Zach Ertz. Pederson making the call for Foles' touchdown catch will get a lot of attention, but it took even more guts to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles' 45-yard line with 5:39 left in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia was trailing for the first time all game, and the Patriots had scored touchdowns in their previous three drives. The old, stale "book" for NFL coaches says to punt the ball there because a failed fourth down sets up New England in scoring position right away. That old book is slowly going out of print with the help of analytics, offensive-minded coaches and a league-wide trend toward rules that all favor scoring.

Pederson didn't hesitate to make the right call, but it was Foles' incredible pocket movement that helped keep the Eagles' game-winning drive alive. Foles backpedaled away from heavy pressure and eventually found tight end Zach Ertz for a 2-yard gain.

The Eagles were in a game they didn't exactly expect, but they knew how to roll with the flow of the contest.

"You never want to get into a shootout with Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback to walk this planet," Ertz said.

Ertz said after the game he was in man coverage against Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the play and that he wasn't surprised Pederson went for it on fourth down, which eventually set up Ertz's game-winning touchdown.

"Coach told us last night he was going to be aggressive, that he wasn't going to change for anybody," All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson said after the game.

3) Corey Clement's 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. This was a game of favorable matchups for the Eagles' offense, which Philadelphia's coaching staff helped to dictate repeatedly.

There was Alshon Jeffery's 34-yard touchdown reception over Eric Rowe in the first half. There was Clement's 55-yard reception that included a vicious stiff arm of Patriots safety Duron Harmon. There were screen passes that caught the Patriots' defense flat-footed, and runs with wide swaths of open field for Eagles running backs to run through.

Clement's 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter stands out because it combined a favorable matchup (Clement against Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers) and an impossibly beautiful throw by Foles. It's one thing to put players in a position to succeed. It's another for players like Foles, Clement and Jeffery to elevate their play on the biggest stage.

Foles had so many dimes into tight windows on the night, but his throw to Clement on third-and-6 had an especially small margin for error. Patriots safety Devin McCourty was covering the deep part of the field and Foles had to use anticipation, touch and arm strength to put the ball into the right spot. The coaches found a mismatch, but Foles found another level of accuracy and anticipation that few outside of the Eagles' building believed he was capable of. This was a performance that ranks alongside any by a quarterback in Super Bowl history.

"You can't play any better," Reich said.

You can say the same about Philadelphia's receivers. Jeffery's touchdown took incredible concentration in close quarters. Nelson Agholor made a terrific catch on a pretty throw on the run by Foles during the game-winning drive, a play that pushed the ball over midfield. And Clement safely secured the ball and got his feet down just in time to make Foles' pass count on the third-quarter touchdown.

"The analogy we've used all year is that we're a basketball team that doesn't have a 30-point scorer. We've got five guys that can beat you, five guys that can score," Reich said.

In another universe where Philadelphia's sports luck all goes sour, Clement's touchdown would have been overturned because there was some question about whether he was juggling the ball. But that universe ceased to exist Sunday night in Minneapolis because these Eagles made their own luck -- they had a coach and a group of players who kept shooting their shots until the clock turned to zero and they were champions.

"I told y'all no one was stopping us!" Jeffery beamed from his postgame podium Sunday night, after recounting his wayward career journey to the moment. "Only we could stop us and that was not happening tonight!"

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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