ATLANTA — In a year that saw scoring records shattered all over the NFL, perhaps it’s only fitting that the Super Bowl went retro as the New England Patriots won their sixth title in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era.
The Patriots beat the Rams 13-3, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with seven minutes left after a grinder of a game in which neither team could sustain offensive drives.
Though the Patriots’ dynasty was already the greatest in NFL history, winning yet another title only puts their legacy even further ahead of the pack. And it’s particularly surprising since New England didn’t necessarily look capable of this for much of the regular season with the 41-year old Brady often playing below his typical standard.
But New England’s defense stepped up in a major way at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, holding the Rams to 14 first downs and 260 yards in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever.
“It was an unbelievable year,” Brady said in a postgame interview on CBS. “We fought through it more so than anything. It’s unbelievable to win this game.”
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Here are three things we learned from Super Bowl LIII:
1. Julian Edelman was nearly unstoppable: The Rams’ defense was sensational for much of this game. They took away the run, they covered deep and they were in Brady’s face enough to make him uncomfortable. But there was one weak spot they couldn’t figure out. On so many key plays, particularly third downs, Edelman was wide open underneath. Whether it was Aqib Talib or Nickell Robey-Coleman trying to cover him man-to-man, Edelman found a way to get space and ended up with 10 receptions for 141 yards. Though he never found the end zone, a 25-yard catch in the first half set up the Patriots’ first field goal to take a 3-0 lead into halftime. He also had a big 13-yard catch on their eventual game-winning touchdown drive.
2. The Rams’ offense nosedived at the worst time: For the first 11 weeks of the season, the Rams’ high-scoring offense was a huge part of the realignment of how people thought about the NFL. For awhile, it seemed like anyone who was buddies with their 33-year old coach Sean McVay was a candidate for a head coaching job. But suddenly in the playoffs, and particularly in the Super Bowl, the Rams malfunctioned.
Give the Patriots much of the credit for that. They blitzed enough to keep quarterback Jared Goff off balance, and their coverage in the secondary was superb all game long. So it was only fitting that the game’s key play came when Goff made a wild throw against pressure that cornerback Stephon Gilmore snagged with 4:17 left as the Rams were trying to drive for the tying touchdown.
Goff didn’t play well on the big stage. He finished with 229 yards and an interception on 19-of-38 passing, and he’ll surely regret not executing the throw on a sure touchdown with 3:35 left in the third quarter when he was late spotting Brandin Cooks with nobody near him in the end zone. That allowed just enough time for Patriots corner Jason McCourty to come over and prevent him the Rams from taking a 7-3 lead. Another key question for the Rams: What happened to running back Todd Gurley, who was a non-factor in both the NFC title game and the Super Bowl even though the team said he was 100% healthy? Gurley ran it just 10 times for 35 yards and barely played in the first half.
3. The punters were key: In a game where both defenses were able to come up big when they had to, Rams punter Johnny Hekker and Patriots punter Ryan Allen put on their own kind of show. Allen pinned the Rams inside their 10-yard line three times, while Hekker repeatedly kicked L.A. out of trouble. The Rams had to punt away their first eight possessions, and Hekker was able to down it inside the 20 on five of them. He also had a key, field-flipping 65-yard punt — a Super Bowl record — in the third quarter after the Rams were hemmed inside their own 5, taking advantage of a great bounce down the left sideline. It was the longest punt in the history of the Super Bowl.