Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pick against these Patriots? I’m sorry. I just can’t

The Patriots are a funny sort of dynasty. Of their eight Super Bowls under Belichick/Brady, all were in doubt in the final minute. They’re 5-3 in those games, having outscored the various NFC champs by a total of four points. If we count only regulation – if we forget the overtime on the night of 28-3 – these Pats have been outscored over 480 minutes of Super Bowl play. 

The two biggest fourth-quarter deficits overridden in Super annals are 10 and 19 points. The first featured Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception of Russell Wilson’s pass. The second involved Kyle Shanahan not running the ball. (Dan Quinn was on the losing side in both.) The biggest lead New England has held in these eight Super Bowls was 17-3, that coming in the 2002 installment against the Rams, then based in St. Louis. 

All of which is to say: At this level, the Patriots don’t blow anybody out. Nor do they get blown out, even when it appears they might. The Rams were favored by 14 points in 2002, which tied for the second-widest post-merger spread. They never led. Two years ago, the Falcons led – stop me if you’ve heard this – by 25 with 17 minutes and seven seconds left in regulation. The Pats scored the next 31 points. 

Only in their 18-0 manifestation have the Patriots appeared an overpowering assemblage, and that one lost to the Giants via the Helmet Catch. (Football is weird.) The Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf clearly was superior, but Bill Belichick dragged that swaggering bunch down to his team’s level. The same happened with the Seahawks four years ago. The same happened with the Falcons two years after that, though the dragging didn’t occur until the Patriots had been reduced to going for it on fourth-and-3 on their side of the field in the third quarter. 

Man for man, these Rams are more gifted than the Patriots. So were the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, and the Pats prevailed in OT. The story of this New England team, in 25 words or less: Belichick’s schemes keep it close, and Tom Brady wins it at the end. (That’s only 13 words, roughly the length of the average Belichick news-conference response.) They don’t out-talent you; they almost always out-execute you. They’ve lived within the fine margins so long they’d faint if they were leading 28-3 on Super Sunday.

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The Rams will win a Super Bowl soon. That’s their manifest destiny. Destiny, alas, will have to wait. What seemed for most of the regular season the 14th-best team of the Patriots’ 17-year run has found its feet. Over the first 10 games, the Pats rushed for an average of 108.5 yards; over the past eight, they’ve averaged 160.3. They broke 450 yards of total offense once in those first 10 games; they’ve done it four times in the past eight. In two postseason games, they’ve managed 1,022 yards and 88 points. 

As late as mid-December, there were those who believed the Patriots were the AFC’s third- or fourth-best team. Both the Chiefs and the Chargers won more games than New England. Come January, the Patriots routed the latter in Foxborough and outlasted the former in K.C. These aren’t the Pats who lost by double figures at Jacksonville, at Detroit and at Tennessee and were undone in Miami on a double-lateral. This is again a Belichick/Brady bunch. 

The Rams are here on the strength of a home victory over the Cowboys and the asterisked defeat of the Saints. Dallas was mediocre on offense; New Orleans sagged after Thanksgiving. The belief while watching the NFC Championship game – this notion struck long before the no-call and Greg Zuerlein’s mighty boots  – was that the AFC winner would beat either of the teams playing in the Superdome. That belief holds. 

Don’t expect the Patriots to win by a lot. As mentioned, that’s not what they do. Nor should we expect them to stonewall the Rams. (That bit about Belichick being invincible given two weeks to prepare? I refer you to last year’s Super Bowl, in which Doug Pederson beat the Pats with his backup quarterback.) Sean McVay’s team will make plays and score points. But the beauty of Belichick/Brady is that they keep their team afloat until they can figure it out. 

Had the Seahawks handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch and Shanahan handed it to anybody, the Patriots of Belichick/Brady would be 3-5 in Super Bowls, their most recent victory having come in 2005. But that, too, is what they do: They take advantage when you mess up, and they keep their own mess-ups at a minimum.

Belichick is the greatest coach ever, Brady the best quarterback. The rest of the cast has proved interchangeable, but the pillar B’s prop up everything around them. One’s 66 and the other’s 41, so this can’t go on much longer. (Well, can it?) One more Super celebration sounds about right. It should come Sunday. Patriots 28, Rams 24.

About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.

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