NFL

While Week Eight did not feature the nail-biting finishes of previous weeks, it did establish the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams as the cream of the crop in the NFC.

The Saints faced their toughest test so far this season against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings came into the game after dominating a respectable New York Jets team and beating the Saints in last year’s playoffs in an all-time classic game, earning the nickname, the Minneapolis Miracle. However, all the confidence possessed by the Vikings while entering U.S. Bank Stadium did not prevent the Saints from soundly beating them 30-20, pushing the Vikings’ record to 6-1 on the season.

The Saints previously dominated teams with their explosive offense featuring All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas and Pro Bowl running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. However, in this game, a staunch Viking defense limited all four of these players.

To be fair, the Saints offense did not carry the team. The defense resembled an elite unit, allowing only 20 points, making an interception that they returned for a touchdown and forcing a fumble that they returned from their own 20-yard line to the Vikings’ 32-yard line to set up the Saints offense with a short field.

“We’ve got a recipe and we’re sticking to it,” said Kamara in a post-game interview in reference to his team’s overall performance.

The Rams also did not play their best on Sunday, but ultimately found a way to beat quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Rams trailed by one point late in the fourth quarter but found enough offense to set up a 34-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein to put the Rams in the lead with two minutes and five seconds left. On the ensuing kickoff, running back Ty Montgomery fumbled while returning the kick-off, sealing the Rams’ victory.

With the win, the Rams remain the only undefeated team in the NFL this season.

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay heaped praise on his players after the game.

“What a hard-fought win,” McVay said, according to SB Nation. “Our team did an excellent job just finding a way to get it done. Can’t say enough about our players’ resilience, their ability to just stick together, stay connected.”

Week Nine is expected to bring even more excitement, as the Rams and Saints face off in New Orleans. This heavyweight clash could ultimately decide who receives home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Two marquee matchups on Oct. 21 summed up Week Seven perfectly: the Baltimore Ravens’ 24-23 narrow defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints and the 45-10 Cincinnati Bengals’ demolition by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The former game featured four lead changes and a last-second missed extra point by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, resulting in victory for the Saints. But the latter matchup saw the Chiefs blow out the Bengals, further cementing the Chiefs’ status among the NFL’s elite.

Those two games encompass the blowouts and dramatic finishes of Week Seven.

Five games in Week Seven finished with a score difference of 20 points or more. Conversely, five games were decided by four points or less.

In the second NFL game in London this year, the Los Angeles Chargers beat the Tennessee Titans by one point. Although the Titans scored a touchdown with 31 seconds left and could have kicked an extra point to tie the game at 20, Head Coach Mike Vrabel went for the two-point conversion, which backfired. Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw an incomplete pass to wide receiver Taywan Taylor to end the game in defeat for the Titans.

“I told the team that I made a decision that we were going to be aggressive early in the drive,” Vrabel said in a post-game interview. “When that drive started, I thought … when we scored if there was less than 40 seconds, we were going to go for two points, and we were going to win the game.”

The Titans-Chargers game was not the only one-point game this week. The Ravens-Saints game also came down to the final seconds. The Ravens received the ball trailing by seven points with one minute and 59 seconds left on the clock on their 34-yard line. They embarked on a six-play drive that ended in quarterback Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass to Ravens wide receiver John Brown. The touchdown pushed the score to 24-23, leaving the Ravens hanging with just one extra point to tie and send the game into overtime. But Tucker, who had never missed an extra point in his career, missed his kick wide right.

The Ravens were unable to recover the subsequent onside kick, resulting in a heartbreaking loss for Tucker and the Ravens.

“[The kick] just happened to get away from me,” Tucker said in a post-game interview, taking accountability for the missed point. “I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but at the end of the day, I feel like I cost us the game.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs destroyed the Bengals on offense, defense and special teams. Offensively, the Chiefs accumulated an impressive 551 total yards. Defensively, they allowed only 10 points to the Bengal offense that came into the game averaging 29 points per game. On special teams, the Chiefs nullified dangerous punt and kick returner Alex Erickson and set up their offense with a drive that started at the Cincinnati 33-yard line, tackling Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem prior to the first down on a fake punt.

Week Seven separated pretenders from contenders. While teams like the Chiefs firmly established themselves as one of the league’s best, teams with playoff aspirations like the Ravens, Titans and Bengals faltered. Oh, how football is a game of inches!

“It came down to one play.” This phrase could be uttered by fans of many teams after Week Four of the NFL season, describing the misery of their team’s heart-wrenching defeat or the jubilation of their team’s exhilarating victory.

The first of many exciting games was a good old-fashioned shootout between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals. In the first half, defense was non-existent on both fronts, enabling Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to feast and lead their offenses to 24 and 28 points, respectively.

The second half featured a more competent defensive showing, but when the Falcons failed to receive the stop they needed, the Bengals converted two fourth-downs on their final drive and scored a touchdown with seven seconds left to the lead 37-36.

“There was no quit out there,” Dalton said in a postgame interview. “The way this game was going, it felt like the last team to have the ball was going to win. We knew that we needed to get down there. We needed to score, and there’s no quit in our guys even with the setbacks.”

In addition to this thriller, three other games extended into overtime this weekend: the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Tennessee Titans, the Houston Texans vs. the Indianapolis Colts and the Cleveland Browns vs. the Oakland Raiders.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota outdueled Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in the overtime period, as he converted key fourth-downs and found Titans star wide receiver Corey Davis for a touchdown with five seconds left to win the game.

Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel praised Mariota’s quick actions after the game.

“[Mariota] was great when it mattered the most, and I think that that’s the key,” Vrabel said. “It’s how you perform on the most critical situations.”

In the Texans vs. Colts game, a tie looked like a guarantee as the Colts faced fourth-down and four final yards with 27 seconds left on their own 43-yard line. But, Colts Head Coach Frank Reich mystifyingly decided to go for the first down. This decision backfired horrifically as the Colts turned the ball over on downs after an Andrew Luck incompletion, and Deshaun Watson set the Texans up for a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.

Frank Reich defended his decision after the game.

“I’m not playing to tie,” Reich said. “I’ll do that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s got to roll.”

While the decision to forgo punting on the fourth down could have provided his team with a jolt of positive momentum for the rest of the season, it also possessed a large amount of risk given the time, score and position of the ball relative to their own 43-yard line.

The Browns-Raiders game also came down to the wire with the Browns once again relinquishing a lead in the fourth quarter, falling to the Raiders 45-42 in overtime. While the Browns fell to 1-2-1 and looked destined to fail to make the playoffs for the 16th consecutive year, Baker Mayfield impressed in his debut as the Browns starting quarterback throwing for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps there are finally better days on the horizon for Browns fans.

After a thrilling week, Week Five figures to provide more excitement, featuring a rematch of the NFC championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Vikings on Oct. 7th. As former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott famously proclaimed when discussing the proposition of facing the Pittsburgh Steelers after a Jets victory against the New England Patriots in the 2011 AFC semifinals, “Can’t Wait!”

From quarterback duels in Atlanta to remarkable upsets in Minneapolis and Detroit, NFL Week Three was a roller coaster ride: thrilling, unpredictable and truly entertaining.

It all started with a Thursday night thriller that featured two young, up-and-coming teams: the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. The Jets took control of the first half, leading 14-3 at halftime. But in the second half, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, replaced a concussed quarterback Tyrod Taylor and played a nearly perfect game. Mayfield led the Browns to their first win in 635 days, meaning that Bud Light provided Browns fans with free beer.

After Thursday night’s exciting game, Sunday did not fail to entertain. Arguably one of the most thrilling games of the year between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, epic performances from Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan were the highlight of Sunday’s game. The two former MVPs’ stats for the game combined to account for 10 total touchdowns, 770 passing yards and zero interceptions.

Ultimately, the game came down to a coin flip with the teams tied 37-37 at the end of the fourth quarter, resulting in 10 minutes of overtime. The Saints won the coin toss at the beginning of overtime, meaning that a touchdown by Brees and the Saints offense would win the game. Ultimately, Brees orchestrated a masterful 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 1-yard quarterback sneak to win the game.

Even Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn tipped his cap to both offenses.

“I thought both offenses lit [the field] up,” Quinn said, according to a Saints press release. “They certainly got hot.”

The Kansas City Chiefs built off of their first two wins and further stake their claim as the NFL’s best team this season on Sunday. What the Chiefs’ offense has done this season is truly remarkable. Through three games, the Chiefs have scored 15 offensive touchdowns, tying them with the 1998 49ers and the 2013 Broncos for the most touchdowns through the first three games of the year since the AFL-NFL merger in 1966. They join the 2007 Patriots as the only team since 1970 to score five or more touchdowns in each of their first three games.

While the Chiefs cemented their status among the NFL elite, other Super Bowl contenders flopped and lost to less talented teams with poor records. Those expected NFL powerhouses included the Minnesota Vikings, the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars who lost to the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans, respectively. The most shocking upset was the Vikings’ loss to the Bills, as the Vikings were favored by 16 and a half points and were playing in their home stadium. The Bills blew out the Vikings by 21 points as the host team failed to pass the 50-yard line until the second half against a Bills defense that had allowed 47 points in Week One and 33 points in Week Two.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer offered a blunt assessment of the loss.

“I don’t think we took [the Bills] too lightly,” Zimmer said, according to a postgame statement. “I think they came out and kicked our butts.”

The NFL rarely ever ceases to produce exciting, dramatic and action-packed games. This week was no different. From explosive offenses to remarkable upsets, fans are left wanting more from arguably the most popular sport in America and eagerly anticipate exciting gameplay in Week Four.

From the first kickoff to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s hail mary falling to the turf just out of Panthers wide receiver D.J Moore’s outstretched arms, this NFC South battle had the intensity of a playoff game. The Falcons survived a few late defensive mistakes to pick up a crucial 31-24 win on Sept. 16 over the Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game started with the defenses of both teams stifling the opposing offenses, allowing three points each at the end of the first quarter. Both teams’ offenses asserted themselves commencing with an 11-yard run from the Panthers to pick up the first down on fourth and four. Panthers MVP Newton slid at the 22-yard line, ending the play.

Falcons safety Damontae Kazee delivered a bone-crushing hit to Newton’s head as he slid, sparking a brawl between the Panthers and Falcons. After the game, Newton expressed his relief regarding the close call.

“I’m just lucky nothing pretty much happened,” Newton said, according to Yahoo Sports. “But this game isn’t fit for cheap shots like that.”

While the referees reviewed the play to determine whether Kazee’s hit warranted an ejection, Panthers doctors examined Newton for a concussion and cleared him to play before the referees decided to eject Kazee.

Seven plays later, Newton threw a touchdown to wide receiver Jarius Wright to put the Panthers up 10-3.

After the drive, the Falcons showed their resiliency, as quarterback Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan responded by leading a 75-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass to the Falcons’ heralded rookie, Calvin Ridley, evening the score 10-10.

Defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. and the rest of the Falcons defense responded by handing the ball back to Ryan with the score still tied at 10 and one minute and 52 seconds remaining in the first half. Once again, Ryan showed why he was named NFL MVP two years ago by orchestrating an 85-yard drive that culminated in a beautiful 8-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the back right corner of the end zone, giving the Falcons a 17-10 lead heading into halftime.

In the third quarter, Ryan made his only mistake of the day when Panthers rookie Donte Jackson intercepted him at the Carolina 2-yard line.

But the mistake proved unimportant, as the Falcons defense forced a quick punt, putting Ryan in position to redeem himself. After the interception, Ryan threw the football in near flawless form, registering only one incompletion.

However, these glowing passing statistics were overshadowed, as Ryan stole a page from Newton’s playbook, the best rushing quarterback in the NFL, by rushing for two touchdowns in the second half. The first was a 1-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone, in which Ryan kept his legs churning and found a way through the massive heap of 300-pound offensive and defensive linemen into the end zone.

While the first touchdown run required power and strength, the second touchdown run demonstrated Ryan’s power, strength, agility and, more importantly, his will to win. Ryan challenged three Panthers defenders at the goal line by jumping in the air, landing, gathering himself and reaching the ball across the goal line for the touchdown to put the Falcons up 31-17 with seven minutes and 17 seconds remaining.

“I can’t remember the last time I had two touchdown runs,” Ryan said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

Although the Falcons defense committed some major mistakes at the end of the game, such as allowing Newton to connect with Moore for a 51-yard touchdown to bring the Panthers within seven points, the game was never in doubt. The unit complemented Ryan’s MVP-level of performance to perfection, and the Falcons obtained a much-needed, much-deserved win to move to 1-1 this season.

“When we got our chances, we nailed them across the board today,” Ryan said, according to the AJC. “So I thought the execution was great.”

Although it is only week two of the NFL season, this game indicates that the NFC South is shaping up to be the toughest division in the NFL and moreover, any divisional win will be important moving forward. This win could propel the Falcons to a division title and a chance to avenge their last two heart-wrenching postseason losses.

The Falcons will play again on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The roads were noticeably quieter on Sunday, and the smell of face paint and burgers tinted the air. We all know what that means. Football is back. The 2018 NFL season started off with a bang this week with several comeback victories and close games.

Here is a recap of some of this season’s most intense victories and letdowns so far.

Heading off the weekend, the defending champions Philadelphia Eagles faced off against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6. The Eagles squeaked by with an 18-12 victory. Both offenses struggled, but the Eagles prevailed through a magical trick play, two goal-line stands and inefficient red zone offense from the Falcons.

Of the slate of games on Sept. 9, the highlight came toward the end of the night when quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Green Bay Packers to a come-from-behind 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears. Despite suffering an injury in the second quarter, Rodgers returned to the game in the second half and finished with 301 total yards and three touchdowns. Bears defensive star Khalil Mack made an impressive debut, wreaking havoc all over the Packers’ offensive line, finishing with one strip sack and one interception in limited playing time.

The Cleveland Browns ended their 17-game losing streak with their opening-day game against the Pittsburgh Steelers — albeit with a 21-21 tie. Both teams missed game-winning field goals in overtime. The Steelers struggled throughout the game without their star running back Le’veon Bell, who is still holding out for a new contract.

In a surprising game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped 48 points over the New Orleans Saints’ 40. The Saints’ horrendous defense suffered under Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s total of five touchdowns. The Saints showed several signs of weaknesses on defense against what many considered the worst team in the league.

Among the shootouts on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs impressed with their 38-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. New Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and offensive star Tyreek Hill dominated the Chargers’ defense. Mahomes threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns showing off his cannon of an arm, while Hill had 169 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns alongside a 91-yard punt return touchdown.

Sept. 10 was a day of smooth victories for the New York Jets and the Los Angeles Rams. The Jets blew out the Detroit Lions 48-17. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold impressed after throwing an interception return for a touchdown on his first throw. The Jets defense caught five interceptions, humbling Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had an unmemorable game in which he threw just one touchdown and four interceptions.

Despite head coach Jon Gruden’s long-awaited return to the NFL, the Oakland Raiders lost 33-13 to the Rams. The Rams looked in every way a Super Bowl contender with an impressive defense that had several sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown to finish off the Raiders.

Week One brings out overreactions from fans and pundits alike. No, the Buccaneers are not going to be Super Bowl contenders. Yes, the Steelers and Saints are going to be fine even with disappointing starts.

However, there are some things from Week One that will likely hold. The Buffalo Bills looked abysmal — who knows why quarterback Nathan Peterman started the game after his debut last year throwing five interceptions? The Bills also have no weapons on offense and are probably going to be the doormat of the AFC East. Mahomes looks like the real deal for the Kansas City Chiefs, and head coach Andy Reid once again has positioned the Chiefs in prime playoff contention.

In the NFC, the Falcons underwent many of the same issues that plagued the team last year. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has yet to fix the red zone problems. This could spell the Falcons’ demise if they make it to the playoffs again. The Bears’ blown lead might either set up a rallying cry to become a playoff contender, or they might not be able to recover. Meanwhile, the Rams and the Minnesota Vikings look like the prime Super Bowl favorites with very impressive opening weekends.

Week Two of the season starts on Sept. 13 with an AFC North rivalry matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 2018 NFL Draft is almost upon us.

You can feel it in the air. The draft “experts” are creating mock drafts. NFL teams are scouting every prospect. Fans are clamoring for their teams to draft their favorite players. And, the Cleveland Browns are drafting first overall — again.

The 2018 NFL Draft may be remembered as one of the most entertaining and unexpected drafts in recent memory. Nevertheless, here are three headlines that may or may not become a reality in this year’s draft.

Cleveland Drafts the Quarterback and the Running Back of the Future No. 1 and No. 4

With the highest potential among the quarterback prospects, Sam Darnold is the perfect pick for the Browns. He possesses the arm, the mobility and the leadership that every NFL team covets. Although he didn’t throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was lights-out in his pro day at the University of Southern California.

Darnold possesses traits that other potential top QB prospects lack. For example, he exhibited strong character when he swapped flights to throw for his teammate. In addition, his experience exceeds that of other players, like University of Wyoming QB Josh Allen, as he faced tough competition in the Pac-12 Conference, while Allen played in the less competitive Mountain West Conference. His focus sets him apart from other prospects, such as University of California, Los Angeles QB Josh Rosen, who put a hot tub in his freshman dorm, just because. Also, University of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield has well-documented maturity issues such as resisting arrest and a crotch-grabbing incident.

The fourth overall pick is an easy choice. If former Pennsylvania State University running back Saquon Barkley is on the board, Cleveland should take him — no questions asked.  

With the Denver Broncos and New York Jets seemingly locked in on QBs, the Browns will be more than happy to have the best prospect in the draft fall into their laps. Barkley, rocking an NFL-ready 6 feet and 233 pounds, impressed at the NFL Scouting Combine. Barkley blazed the 40-yard dash in a lightning 4.40 seconds, adding to his 29 reps in the bench press and 41-inch vertical leap.

With Darnold as QB and Barkley as RB, the Browns’ offense would be set for the foreseeable future. Here’s to hoping they don’t pick first again next year.

Patriots Keep Their Picks and Still Get QB Prospect

The New England Patriots are loaded this draft.

After wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ trade to the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots hold two first-round picks (No. 23 from the Los Angeles Rams and No. 31) and two second-round picks (No. 43 from the San Francisco 49ers and No. 63).

In classic Bill Belichick fashion,the Patriots’ draft plans are secret. According to NFL insider Adam Shefter, the Patriots may trade up into the Top 10 in hopes of drafting one of the premier QB prospects. Tom Brady will be 41-years-old this upcoming NFL season, so the Patriots will soon need to find his successor. Others have speculated that Belichick may attempt to trade both first-round picks to the New York Giants to obtain superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

However, both seem like longshots. Beckham Jr. doesn’t fit the mold of “The Patriot Way,” and, with a massive contract on the horizon, the fickle Patriots hesitate to pay around $20 million per season. Although they do need a QB this draft, the Patriots should look into a Day-2 QB such as the University of Richmond (Va.)’s Kyle Lauletta or Oklahoma State University’s Mason Rudolph, if still available.

Giants Build Up an Arsenal

After lofty expectations to begin the 2017 NFL season, the New York Giants were to put it lightly awful. With former General Manager Jerry Reese and former Head Coach Ben McAdoo fired, the Giants hope to revamp the franchise by finding young talent in the draft.

Holding the second overall pick, the Giants have a plethora of options. But the Giants should trade their pick and move back. While the Buffalo Bills are a viable trading partner with the No. 12 and No. 22 overall picks, the Giants should do business with the Denver Broncos if the opportunity arises. That trade would allow the Giants to obtain Denver’s No. 5-overall pick, along with potentially a pair of second rounders. If the 49ers can obtain a first, two-thirds and a fourth from the Chicago Bears to move down only one pick, the Giants should gain some considerable assets. And with that fifth selection, the Giants can shore up their offensive line by drafting University of Notre Dame (Ind.) guard Quenton Nelson.

It’s more than likely, however, that New York will trade Beckham Jr. by draft night. I would be shocked if the Giants acquire two first-round picks, but they should be able to stockpile a considerable return for Beckham Jr.’s services. With Beckham Jr.’s on-and-off-the-field antics becoming a nuisance to the team, it’s time for the Giants to cash in and trade him away. With an arsenal of picks following these trades, the Giants should be in a great position to draft their next superstar.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles celebrate their first Super Bowl victory at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneappolis, Minn., Feb. 4. The Eagles outlasted the New England Patriots 41-33 to win Super Bowl LII. Courtesy of Rahul Uppal.

 

In the greatest offensive display in Super Bowl history, the Philadelphia Eagles outdueled the New England Patriots 41-33 to win Super Bowl LII. This is the Eagles’ first ever Super Bowl title, delivering sweet redemption to their rabid fan base after the team’s 2005 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The Eagles sealed the victory when defensive end Brandon Graham strip-sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during what was set to be a classic game-winning drive for the Patriots. It was the only sack of the game, and it was the Eagles’ only forced turnover, but they certainly made it count.

Super Bowl MVP went to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who threw the game-winning two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 2:21 remaining.

Super Bowl LII was one of the most exciting in recent history in light of a number of broken records. The game was a combination of trick-plays and fourth-down conversions as both teams brought an aggressive offensive mindset to the contest. The two offenses consistently took chances, and the risks paid off, which resulted in a game that played host to only one punt per side. Offense was the name of the game as the teams combined for a playoff record 1,151 total yards. The Patriots had 613 yards, the most ever for a losing team in the playoffs.

Philadelphia Head Coach Doug Pederson told Bleacher Report Feb. 4 that the team’s dynamic offense was the result of an aggressive game plan.

“We mixed in some of the RPOs [run-pass options],” Pederson said. “The Patriots did a great job of kind of nullifying some of that. Listen, my mentality was ‘I’m going to stay aggressive with [Foles] and let him use his playmakers to make plays.’”

Despite the Patriots’ failure, Brady delivered another incredible performance, throwing for 505 yards and three scores in the losing effort. The passing mark broke the record he set one year ago against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Brady added to his all-time lead in Super Bowl passing yards and touchdowns, becoming the first player to throw for 10,000 yards in the playoffs.

Matched up against arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Foles held his own. Philadelphia lost first string quarterback Carson Wentz in early December 2017 due to a torn ACL. Stepping out of the on-deck circle was Foles, whom many viewed as the Eagles’ greatest liability. Foles was impressive in the biggest game of his career Sunday as he passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns, along with a brilliant touchdown catch at the close of the first half.

“I was thinking of hanging up the cleats,” Foles said in a Feb. 5 Bleacher Report interview. “I’m glad I made the decision to come back to play.”

Eagles star defensive end Chris Long gave his support to Foles.

“People disrespected Nick all year,” Long said in the Feb. 5 Bleacher Report article. “Now look where he is.”

Foles’ touchdown reception came at a key point in the game — the end of the second half. He caught the pass from tight end Trey Burton on a fourth-down play. This trick play had a completely contrary result off a similar trick play from the Patriots. Brady had dropped a pass from wide receiver Danny Amendola even though Brady had no one near him.

Foles also threw one interception from a deep throw to wideout Alshon Jeffery that the wide receiver almost caught with one hand. But Jeffery tipped the ball into the air and eventually into the hands of Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon. Notably absent from the Patriots secondary was cornerback Malcolm Butler, who was benched for reasons that, at present, remain unclear.

Pederson did not lose trust in his quarterback even after the turnover, putting his faith into Foles on the Eagles’ game-winning drive on a fourth-and-one conversion near midfield. Eventually, Foles hit Ertz for a touchdown pass at the end of the drive.

Philadelphia running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi did the heavy lifting for the Eagles. Blount rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown off 14 carries against his former team. Ajayi ran for 57 yards on nine carries.

From the pocket, Foles kept the Patriots defense guessing. Running back Corey Clement turned in a team-high 100 receiving yards on four catches. Jeffery impressed with three catches, 73 yards, and a touchdown. Ertz had seven catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Nelson Agholor rounded out a solid game for the receiving unit with nine catches for 84 yards.

On the Patriots’ end, Brady’s throws went to a trifecta of targets in Amendola, wide receiver Chris Hogan and tight end Rob Gronkowski. “Playoff” Amendola continued to impress with 152 yards on eight receptions. Gronk found the endzone twice with 116 yards on nine receptions and Hogan hauled in 128 yards on six catches.

In a game marked by brilliant offensive performances, special teams errors stood out like a sore thumb. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL, missed an extra point and a 26-yard field goal off the upright. Kicker Jake Elliot converted all three of his field goals but missed an extra point in the first quarter.

After almost two decades of success, the Patriots dynasty might be nearing a close. Brady’s fight against Father Time can only be delayed for so long. Head Coach Bill Belichick will also lose defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as he transitions into a new head coaching job with the Detroit Lions. The Pats will have a lot to look over this offseason as they need to bolster their defensive line and secondary.

With Wentz set to return next year, Foles is still under contract. His future is uncertain, and the Eagles may want to cash in on his peak value. The Eagles may lose much of their wide receiving core to free agency and will also need to improve their defensive secondary.

Questions surrounding the futures of both teams will be answered later. As of now, much of Philadelphia will be celebrating and tearing down their city after their first ever Super Bowl win. Light poles and a Ritz-Carlton awning have already fallen down. One can only hope that this Super Bowl win might soften the hearts of the Eagles fanbase notoriously known for its unforgiving attitude.

I’m happy. I was sad. Now I’m like — wow,” Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen told ESPN in a post-game interview. Griffen captured every Vikings fan’s reaction to wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ miraculous 61-yard touchdown catch over whiffing New Orleans Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams, giving the Vikings the 29-24 victory over the Saints in the NFC Divisional Round Jan. 14, the first walk-off playoff touchdown in NFL history.

In those nine words, Griffen encapsulated the 57-year history of Minnesota’s oldest professional sports team. The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl and have faced every disappointment an NFL team could, from playoff meltdowns to stadium collapses.

Griffen’s reaction illustrates the beauty of sports fandom. Fans invest so much in their teams. The payoff: entertainment, pride and occasional elation. The cost: frequent anguish. Vikings fans know this emotional rollercoaster better than most. But they also know the secret of fandom: hope.

I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was five years old. I grew up hearing my dad’s tales of the Vikings’ 1970s glory days. They had a Hall of Fame defense, highlighted by defensive tackle Alan Page and defensive end Carl Eller. At quarterback, Fran Tarkenton. The unit lives on in Vikings lore as the Purple People Eaters.

Our team went to the Super Bowl four times from 1971-1977. They lost each time, normalizing the agony of heartbreak. It’s generational.

The next dominant Vikings team arrived in 1998, the team of my older brother Mathew. With veteran quarterback Randall Cunningham airing it out to Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter and wide-eyed rookie Randy Moss, the Vikings had an offense so dangerous that it broke the existing NFL record for points per game.

The 1998 Vikings went 15-1. Before their matchup with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, football legend John Madden asserted, “This is really their year.”

Madden was wrong. With the chance to ice the game, legendary kicker Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the season, from a makeable 39 yards, costing the Vikings the game and a Super Bowl berth.

Mathew was heartbroken. Never again did he put the same hope in the team he loved.

The Vikings regained prominence in 2009 when they managed one of the greatest coups in Minnesota’s history by signing Hall of Famer Brett Favre, the long-time Green Bay Packers quarterback and Vikings terrorizer. With Favre and running back Adrian Peterson, the offense exploded. For the first time in five years, I didn’t grimace at a shotgun formation. The team went 12-4, including two victories over the Packers.

Just like ‘98, the Vikings got to the NFC Championship. Just like ‘98, victory was within reach. Mathew, jaded by past disappointment, was less than optimistic. Tied with the New Orleans Saints with under one minute to go, Favre rolled right. In my cousin’s  basement, I watched the disaster unfold. Nothing developed downfield. “Throw it out of bounds!” I screamed. All we needed was a field goal. Instead, Favre threw across his body to the middle of the field and was intercepted. The Saints won in overtime.

Max Rotenberg (center, white jersey) suffers through a family photo. Max Rotenberg/Contributing.

I was in tears, but my mom took a family photo anyway. My mugshot in that family photo immortalized another disappointing Vikings performance.

Favre was never the same and retired a year later. Even with Peterson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, the team wasn’t good enough, especially with Aaron Rodgers down the road.

We hit rock bottom in 2013, going 5-10-1. My love for the Vikings, for the first time in my life, began to wane.

But my hope for the team didn’t, and I was rewarded. By 2015, we were back in the playoffs, winning the NFC North with an 11-5 record behind great defense and a new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.

History repeats itself. Just like ‘98, the Vikings’ 2015 season came down to a kick. Down 10-9 in the final seconds of the NFC wild card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, kicker Blair Walsh shanked an easy 29-yard field goal. Another season over.

I pulled my hat over my 18-year-old eyes, balled up on my couch and cried.

But hope whispered to me again. They’ll come back stronger next year, right? We have a great defense. We’ll be able to contend.

Then Bridgewater tore his ACL. In desperation, Minnesota traded for quarterback Sam Bradford. The team started the season 5-0, then crumbled to finish 8-8, becoming just the fifth team since 2002 to miss the playoffs after such a start.

Enter the 2017 season. Bradford returned after posting the best completion percentage in NFL history. In week one, the Vikings smoked the Saints behind a career day from Bradford. Then disaster struck. Bradford suffered a knee injury that no one (including Coach Zimmer) understood. In desperation (again), the Vikings turned to six-foot journeyman quarterback Case Keenum. After a shaky start, the Vikings began to look like a legitimate NFL team. Case “He’s just a backup” Keenum and the No. 1 NFL defense rattled off eight straight wins. Could Keenum be the key to a Super Bowl?

History suggested otherwise. Year after year, luck has worked against the Vikings. Against the storied Purple People Eaters defense in the divisional round of the 1975 NFC divisional playoffs, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach completed the original Hail Mary pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson to beat the Vikings. Miracles happen in the NFL — Vikings fans just happen to be on the wrong side of the magic every time. That is, until three weeks ago, when Diggs and the Vikings walked off against New Orleans.

In one play, Diggs exorcised the demons of the original Hail Mary and the 2009 Saints loss and became a Minnesota legend.

“I ran a route, my [quarterback] gave me a great throw and God took care of the rest,” Diggs told ESPN.

Ecstatic, I stayed up watching replays of the final catch. We were going to the Super Bowl. All we had to do was beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

That shouldn’t be too hard, I thought. We have the best defense in the NFL and they have Nick Foles, who has one touchdown pass over his last three games. No way he scores more than 13 points on our defense.

How wrong I was. Just like Madden. Just like the generations of Vikings fans before me. Foles and the Eagles blew the top off the Vikings, 38-7. The NFL’s No. 1 defense, which had allowed only 15.8 points per game, gave up 38. To Nick Foles.

I’m sad. I was happy. Now I’m like — wow.

Thus ends the fairy tale season. The Vikings wouldn’t be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Instead, they broke my heart again. New year, same story.

But hey, there’s always next year.