MINNEAPOLIS — So many times this season New England’s defense made plays when it had to give Tom Brady and the Patriots offense a chance to win.
But it couldn’t figure out the Philadelphia Eagles its 41-33 loss Super Bowl loss on Sunday.
The 41 points New England allowed were more than they have given up in any Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick era. It also surrendered 613 total yards, including 373 through the air to MVP Nick Foles. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriots running back, rushed 14 times for 90 yards and touchdown.
The Patriots offense did its part. It didn’t punt and had no turnovers through three quarters. After playing from behind most of the night, Brady gave New England its first lead of the game, 33-32 on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with 9:22 to play.
But on the ensuing drive New England safety Devin McCourty couldn’t keep Zach Ertz from stretching the ball across the goal line for an 11-yard touchdown reception from Nick Foles that wound up being the game winner.
The Patriots entered the game with 159-15 record, including a perfect 16-0 in the playoffs, when they had won the turnover battle.
They had the first one of the night, on an interception by safety Duron Harmon in the first half.
But they played with a different lineup against the Eagles Sunday, with starting cornerback Malcolm Butler benched in favor of Eric Rowe.
Butler missed a day of practice last week with an illness. He warmed up and was in uniform, but didn’t play. It was the first Patriots game in which Butler did not play a first quarter snap since their Super Bowl win over Seattle to cap the 2014 season.
Asked about the change during the television interview at halftime, coach Bill Belichick said it was a coaching decision.
“I made the decisions that give us the best chance to win,” he said.
Without Butler, New England’s defense – and particular the secondary – had trouble keeping Foles and Philadelphia’s offense in check.
The Eagles punted only once in the game and converted on a pair of fourth downs.
Rowe struggled early, giving up three catches for 66 yards, including Foles’ first touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
But New England’s secondary got the first turnover of the night when Philadelphia’s Jeffrey struggled to control a deep pass from Foles near the goal line. Stephon Gilmore got a hand on it and juggled it before it wound up in the hands of Harmon.
Philadelphia used some trickery, facing fourth-and-goal on the 1 with less than a minute to play.
After a timeout, the Eagles got the ball to Trey Burton on a reverse, who flipped a pass to a wide-open Foles for a touchdown.
New England pulled to within 22-19 after scoring on the opening drive of the second half.
The Patriots defense would break down again, though, this time letting Corey Clement get behind Marquis Flowers and McCourty for an over the shoulder 22-yard catch in the back of the end zone.
Safety Patrick Chung was shaken up on that play and missed a few series. He returned to action in the fourth quarter but had to leave again late in the game with a head injury.