ATLANTA – Take that, young genius.
Bill Belichick became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl the old-fashioned way – with clutch defense – and in the process of a 13-3 victory took Sean McVay to school.
Yeah, the dazzling offense that McVay has created in two phenomenal seasons with the Rams sure found its match in the worst way during the snooze-fest that was Super Bowl LIII.
Los Angeles couldn’t score a touchdown. Jared Goff frequently resembled Goff 1.0 (the Jeff Fisher season) than the burgeoning star he’s been under McVay. The Rams started slow and finished slower.
And leave it to Belichick, 66, the first coach to win six Super Bowls – while Tom Brady became the first player to win six Super Bowl rings — to devise the scheme that squashed the flow.
Sure, Belichick had plenty of support. Stephon Gilmore intercepted Goff near the goal line in the fourth quarter to stifle L.A.’s last scoring threat. Jason McCourty made a fabulous end zone breakup of a pass to a wide-open Brandin Cooks in the end zone in the third quarter. Duron Harmon broke up another pass that hit Cooks in the chest at the goal line.
Plus, the Patriots’ front seven unleashed relentless heat on Goff, who was sacked four times – twice by Dont’a Hightower — and hit on another 12 plays as defensive play-caller Brian Flores kept tapping an assortment of stunts and games to create pressure.
What a way to mark an anniversary. The triumph at Mercedes-Benz Stadium came exactly 17 years since New England won its first Super Bowl – against the St. Louis Rams in XXXVI.
History will note that Julian Edelman was the game’s MVP. He earned the honor with 10 catches for 141 yards, which in a way was a form of defense itself in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. He converted one first down after another to at least allow the Patriots to move the chains and maintain possession in the defensive struggle.
Yet effectively, Belichick’s defense was the real MVP.
Consider: Todd Gurley was a ghost of himself, rushing for 35 yards. Johnny Hekker was called on to punt nine times. On five of the Rams’ 12 drives, they went three-and-out. Those are the indicators of a dominant defense, which the Patriots surely needed as the Wade Phillips-directed Rams defense kept L.A. in the game enough that with maybe one big play?….
It never happened.
The Patriots took a fire extinguisher to the Rams’ offense, the juice behind a 32.9 points-per-game mark that was second-best in the NFL. The bunch receiver sets that typically created opportunities for big plays off pick routes never happened. The jet sweeps, the ghost-fake reverses, none of that threw off the Patriots’ defense, which seemed hell-bent on containing the edges.
This is how dynasties do it. The Patriots, their ninth Super Bowl with Belichick and Brady, sometimes win with offensive explosions. Sometimes, they are carried by defense.
And this, to close out a campaign that saw the most touchdowns ever in an NFL season (1,371) and the second-most points (11,952) league-wide.
Leave it to Belichick to remind us: Defense wins championships.