FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII still gnaws at Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback divulged in a radio interview earlier this week.
Rebounding to win Super Bowl LIII helped ease that pain, sure, but it didn’t erase it. Losing a game on that stage, in that manner — a 41-33 shootout that featured 505 Brady passing yards — can linger in a player’s brain forever.
“That’s a lot of mental scar tissue from that year,” Brady said on WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show.” “That was a tough game.”
Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon know the feeling. Both Patriots safeties have celebrated amid showers of confetti after multiple Super Bowl victories, but memories of the one — or, in McCourty’s case, ones — that got away persist.
“I still remember (Super Bowl) XLVI when we lost to the Giants,” McCourty said Wednesday. “Still remember when I lost the state championship when I was 12. You don’t forget any time you play for a championship and you don’t win it. It’s just something that sticks with you. You always want plays back. You want to do things differently. It doesn’t control your day-to-day, but you always think about it.”
“It was a heartbreak,” added Harmon, who joined the Patriots one year after the aforementioned Giants loss. “It’s the Super Bowl. It’s the last game. Obviously, how we lost — down to the wire, great game all the way — it was a tough pill to swallow. But I think Tom said it best. You learn from it, and I think that was a factor in us being able to finish stronger than we did before last year. Just learning from it and trying to be better from it.”
In Super Bowl LII — the second-highest-scoring in history — a patchwork Patriots defense that had lost Dont’a Hightower and Jonathan Jones to season-ending injuries and Malcolm Butler to a still-mysterious benching was shredded by backup Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, surrendering five touchdowns, 538 total yards and points on all but two of Philadelphia’s 10 possessions.
McCourty was in coverage on Zach Ertz’s game-winning touchdown. Harmon had the Patriots’ lone takeaway of the game — a second-quarter interception — but also took a wicked stiff-arm to the face on the 55-yard catch-and-run that set up the famed Philly Special. It’ll be years before images of those plays leave their minds completely, if they ever do.
Foles, the game’s MVP, now is in Jacksonville, but many key components of the Eagles’ 2017 offense remain intact, including head coach Doug Pederson’s motion- and RPO-heavy scheme. With names like Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks still occupying lines on Philly’s roster, New England’s preparation for Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch has included watching all of the relevant highlights and lowlights from that fateful night in Minneapolis.
Reliving one of the most crushing losses in Patriots history was not a particularly enjoyable experience, Harmon admitted, but it was a necessary one.
“Without a doubt,” Harmon said. “Because we were so close, but at the end of the day, so far away from winning that game. But there’s a lot of hard truth in there that you have to look at and you’ll see about the team.
“You’ll see where, obviously, we’ve gotten better and where we need to be better and where they’ll try to attack us. Just take that from the film and use it to your advantage so on Sunday, you can have a good (sense of) how they want to attack us and how we want to defend ourselves.”
While the stakes for this Patriots-Eagles matchup are considerably lower, a loss could prove costly for either side as the battle for playoff seeding intensifies. New England is looking to maintain its one-game edge over the Baltimore atop the AFC standings — the Ravens own the tiebreaker following their head-to-head win in Week 9 — and Philadelphia is locked in a dead heat with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.
The Patriots and Eagles both are coming off bye weeks, giving each squad two full weeks to prepare.
“Any time you have a long gap between a game, like right now — bye week, a Super Bowl game — no offense is going to come out and do the same thing they had done for 17 weeks, nine, 10 weeks,” McCourty said. “They’re going to do a lot of the meat and potatoes, but they’re going to have some different things in there that when they do call them, they don’t want it to gain three yards, four yards — they want those to be big plays. That’s why you always have to be ready.”
Thumbnail photo via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports Images