ATLANTA – Sorry, young lovers of offense and 33-year-old guru Sean McVay. Sixty-six-year-old Bill Belichick, the greatest defensive mind of the NFL’s first century, isn’t ready to step aside for the so-called future of football.
Two weeks after beating the league’s MVP and highest-scoring offense in Kansas City, Belichick’s Patriots dominated the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 2-ranked scoring offense 13-3 in Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII played in front of a pro-Patriots crowd of 70,081 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I’m pretty numb right now,” McVay said. “I definitely got outcoached today. I didn’t do nearly enough.”
In winning their record-tying sixth Super Bowl on the 17th anniversary of beating the St. Louis Rams for their first title, the Patriots held the Rams to 260 yards and 30 points fewer than their season average. So, in a season that was known for its offensive explosions, Belichick and the Patriots set a record for lowest winning point total in a Super Bowl, breaking the previous mark of 14 set by the Dolphins 46 years ago.
“We couldn’t get nothing going,” said running back Todd Gurley, who had 35 of the Rams’ 62 rushing yards on 10 of their 18 carries. “They were the better team.”
Belichick’s plan was clear early. Confuse quarterback Jared Goff by playing much more zone and making Goff guess where the extra rusher or rushers were coming from. Goff completed only 50 percent of his passes for 229 yards. He was sacked four times, threw an interception and posted a 57.9 passer rating.
“They probably flipped their tendencies opposite of what they showed in the regular season,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “They just executed better than we did.”
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips kept his team in the game by putting pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady. Los Angeles’ first eight drives ended with punts. Four of them were three-and-outs. None lasted longer than five plays.
“I was not pleased at all with my feel for the flow of the game,” McVay said. “We couldn’t get anything going. And that’s on me.”
And yet the Rams were able to tie the score at 3-3 with a 53-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
But a ninth Rams punt came early in the fourth quarter. And Phillips’ defenders, who spent all but 10 minutes on the field in the first half, were finally spent at that point.
With the crowd chanting “Bra-dy!” it was Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels who shined brighter than McVay. He shifted into a two tight-end set, spread the Rams out and ran the same-looking play four times.
“Josh McDaniels did his usual great job calling plays,” Belichick said. “We weren’t anticipating having to go to that look.”
When they did, Brady completed four straight passes, moving the Patriots from their 31 to the Rams 2. He completed a 19-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski. A 13-yard catch to Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, who finished with 10 catches for 141 yards. A 7-yarder to running back Rex Burkhead. And a 29-yarder to Gronkowski down the seam.
From there, rookie Sony Michel, the game’s leading rusher with 94 yards on 18 carries, bulled in from the 2 for a seven-point lead with 7 minutes left.
It was Brady’s best drive in a game that saw him post a 71.4 passer rating while completing 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards, with an interception on the game’s first drive. But he also raised the Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time, moving past Hall of Famer Charles Haley for most Super Bowl victories in a playing career.
Naturally, reporters wanted to know how Brady’s teammates felt about Brady winning No. 6. But linebacker Dont’a Hightower was having no individual Brady talk on a team night like this.
“I’m tired of talking about Brady,” he said. “I won one tonight. It’s a team game. We have a great team.”
After the touchdown, Belichick and his defense put the game away on the ensuing Rams possession. On first-and-10 from the Patriots 27, cornerback Stephon Gilmore was beaten off the line by receiver Brandin Cooks. But safety Duron Harmon, forced into action when starter Patrick Chung broke his right arm making a tackle, covered for him and broke up a pass to the goal line.
On the next play, Belichick called an all-out, cover zero blitz. Goff panicked and threw the ball up for grabs for Cooks. Gilmore intercepted it easily near the goal line and the Patriots moved the ball from inside their 5 to kick a field goal and take a 10-point lead with 72 seconds left.
“I knew they were in cover zero,” Goff said. “That’s a bad decision by me. I got to be better. We just got outplayed.”