Having mastered the shootout and the stirring, last-chance touchdown drive, the Patriots decided to shake up their Super Bowl storylines just a little bit Sunday. Turns out they can win them grimly, too. They can lay siege, grind it out and survive a night that was more pointless than anything with the first name of Super is supposed to be.
In any collection of titles as extensive as the Pats – Sunday made it an even half dozen – there is bound to be at least one a little plainer than the rest. In any litter this large, there’s going to be one hound that’s the homeliest. Doesn’t mean you don’t love ’em all equally.
“I wish we had played a little better on offense but we won,” said Pats quarterback and championship constant Tom Brady. “Super Bowl champs, wow.”
“This is a dream come true for all of us.”
“Biggest team Super Bowl that I’ve ever been a part of,” said his tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Honestly, does style matter? Because when historians measure the breadth of the New England dynasty, all they’ll ask is how many, not how.
Beating the Los Angeles Rams 13-3, in the lowest-scoring of 53 Super Bowls, the Patriots just did what Patriots do. Only a little less of it.
In a game waiting for a big play, and a broadcast awaiting a reason to watch in between the commercials, it was the Patriots who stirred and scored the final 10 points of the game, all in the fourth quarter.
On the only red-zone play (inside the opponents’ 20) either team ran Sunday, former Georgia back Sony Michel scored the game’s only touchdown on a two-yard run with seven minutes left.
They made the plays that the young Rams couldn’t. For just a little less than three minutes later, with L.A. driving for a possible tying score, Jared Goff threw one deep, but not deep enough. His pass landed well short of intended receiver Brandin Cooks, and into the grateful arms of cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Part II of doing what Patriots do: Needing to run clock and move the ball off their own 4-yard line where Gilmore landed, they proceeded to churn out 72 yards with Brady never once unsheathing his right arm. The Pats expressed their greater will and ran the ball and ran and ran it until Stephen Gostkowski added a clinching 41-yard field goal with only a little more than a minute left to play.
“You have to try to play mistake-free football and try to make plays,” the Rams defensive player of the year, lineman Aaron Donald. “They made a play and we didn’t.”
While the final score may not immediately reveal it, this one was just as open and shut as the Mercedes-Benz Stadium roof – which, by the way, performed magnificently this night.
Even more definitively Sunday, Michel (94 yards) won the battle of former Georgia backs. The Rams’ Todd Gurley, whose knee was a question, had only 10 carries and did scarce little with them, netting 35 yards.
“You just have to give credit to the Patriots,” Gurley said. “They’ve been here the last three years in a row for a reason. They got the job done again.”
The Rams once long ago boasted the “Greatest Show on Turf.” They showed up Sunday with a production as slow as a subtitled foreign film. Almost forgotten Sunday was that this year’s version was second in the NFL in scoring this year at nearly 33 points a game.
In avoiding the end zone, L.A. was out-gained by New England 407 yards to 260. Goff, their young quarterback finished 19-of-38 for 229 yards and that one devastating interception.
Brady would throw for no more touchdowns than Goff, but his connection with Julian Edelman proved to be irresistible. The game’s MVP, Edelman finished with 10 catches for 141 yards (a sizable chunk of Brady’s 262 passing yards).
What resulted Sunday was a game that should have been televised in black and white. This was the kind of football they used to play back when 33-year-old Rams coach Sean McVay was still a zygote. It was all about field position, grasping, miserly defense, and every point so precious each should have been measured in carats.
Why, there hadn’t been this little scoring downtown since the last Dragon Con. The last big game in this building, Atlanta United’s 2-0 MLS Cup victory in December, was a relative feast of big scoring opportunities.
Neither team was exactly matriculating the ball down the field to begin the night. Just when you thought you’d seen it all with Brady in the postseason he has so jealously possessed, here was something new: His first pass of the day was picked. He’d never done that before at that stage in 39 previous postseason starts.
It was just a bad idea, his throw across the field to Chris Hogan not arriving there before the Rams Nickell Robey-Coleman first got a hand on it. L.A. linebacker Cory Littleton collected the rebound.
It was Robey-Coleman who came into this week in Atlanta speaking trash out of both sides of his hyphen, suggesting that “age has definitely taken a toll,” on Brady. And then he jumped that first pass as if to underscore the claim.
Thus a tone was set for some less-than-scintillating offense. Even as the Patriots were winning certain important metrics in the first half – holding the clear advantage in yards gained (195-57), first downs (12-2) and time of possession (19:52-10:08) – they had gained only the slightest advantage on the scoreboard.
Even that they lost when the Rams scored all they were going to score on a 53-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal in the third quarter.
All that seemed to do was get the Patriots’ attention. Scoring drives of 69 and 72 yards followed, because that’s what Patriots do.
“A great day for our football team. They played like champions,” said the other constant behind every New England Super Bowl victory, coach Bill Belichick.
And no matter that the Patriots got their fifth Super Bowl at the Falcons’ expense, Atlanta turned out to be a most welcoming place for them.
“The support here was great,” Brady said, “we could have been at (Foxborough’s) Gillette Stadium.”
Echoed the MVP Edelman, speaking on the field directly to the masses, “It was a crazy year. We had a resilient bunch of guys. It was unreal, man. I mean, it was like a home game here. We love you guys here. It was awesome.”
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