Billy Fitzpatrick ’20
Chief Sports Editor
The New England Patriots overwhelmed the Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia, last weekend. In defeating the Rams by a score of 13-3, New England quarterback Tom Brady clinched his record sixth Super Bowl title. This was also the sixth Super Bowl for New England head coach Bill Belichick, making the Brady-Belichick tandem the most successful player-coach duo in NFL history.
With two of the league’s top offenses squaring off for the Super Bowl, the low-scoring affair was a surprise to many fans and NFL analysts alike. Los Angeles established the defensive tone that would define this game on the opening drive. Three minutes into the game, with New England marching into Los Angeles territory, Brady’s first pass of the game was tipped and intercepted by Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. However, any momentum the Rams gained from forcing that turnover was nullified when the Patriots defense forced an immediate three-and-out.
On the ensuing New England possession, the Patriot running game gained some traction with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead all getting carries. New England again found itself threatening in Los Angeles territory, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 46-yard field goal, the first miss by an NFL kicker in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.
The teams exchanged a series of uninspiring drives ending in punts that saw the score stand at 0-0 after one quarter of play. Later on, Brady began to establish a connection with wideout Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Edelman caught a third-down pass for 25 yards that brought New England inside the Los Angeles 30-yard line three minutes in to the second quarter. The Patriots again could not get inside the red zone, though, and had to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt. This time, Gostkowski converted to open the game’s scoring at long last.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles could not get anything going against the Patriots. Third-year quarterback Jared Goff looked overwhelmed by a New England defense that did an excellent job of disguising coverages and audibling on the fly with the play clock inside 15 seconds. The Rams could only muster 57 yards of offense and two first downs in the entire first half. It was the first time under second-year head coach Sean McVay that Los Angeles had been shutout in the first half. The defense alone kept Los Angeles in this game by holding Brady & Co. in check during the opening two periods.
The Rams finally put together a decent drive midway through the third quarter. After Goff missed an open Brandin Cooks in the end zone, Los Angeles still had a good chance to get into the red zone on a 3rd-and-seven from the New England 26-yard line. Yet, the Patriots defense came up with another big play when linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacked Goff to force a long field goal attempt. Los Angeles evened the score at 3-3 when Greg Zuerlein nailed the 53-yarder – the second-longest field goal in Super Bowl history. The combined six total points between the two teams entering the fourth quarter is the lowest ever in a Super Bowl game.
After the Rams defense had limited Brady through the game’s first three quarters, the 41-year-old veteran led a vintage drive with less than ten minutes remaining in the contest. Over the course of four straight plays, Brady peppered the ball around the field (to Gronkowski for 18 yards, Edelman for 13, Burkhead for seven, and back to Gronkowski for 29) to bring New England to the Los Angeles two-yard-line. Michel punched in the go-ahead score to cap the five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive.
It only took three-and-a-half quarters and a touchdown deficit for Goff and the Rams offense to show any sign of life. With All-Pro running back Todd Gurley rendered ineffective by injuries, Goff kept turning to Cooks to move the Rams down the field. Los Angeles nearly scored when Goff fit a fade route in a tight window to Cooks in the endzone, but the former Patriots receiver could not reel in the potential game-tying touchdown catch.
The next play, throwing from the New England 27-yard line, Goff went back to the well one too many times. New England rushed six and forced Goff to throw off his back foot. His effort to Cooks was far short and picked off by Stephon Gilmore inside the five-yard-line with 4:17 remaining to effectively end the game. Gostkowski connected on a 41-yard field goal on the next drive with less than 90 seconds remaining to seal Super Bowl LIII for New England, 13-3. Edelman secured the game’s MVP trophy for his ten-catch, 141-yard performance.
As always, the Patriots face a number of questions this offseason. What will the big three of this era of the Patriot dynasty – Brady, Belichick, and Gronkowski – decide to do about their futures? All three could retire and ride off into the sunset, or they could just as easily run it back another year and enter the 2019 season as favorites to win another Super Bowl. Whatever course these three men end up taking, New England fans cannot complain. They just witnessed perhaps the most unique and impressive Super Bowl win of the franchise’s record-tying six. It was a virtuoso coaching performance by Belichick, the perpetually underappreciated defense shut down an historically good offense, and Brady reminded everyone just how ruthless he can be when it matters most. Perhaps the final chapter of this unprecedented dynasty is in the books, and Brady and Belichick made sure it was a memorable one.