By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Brady wins record sixth Super Bowl with a lot of help from N.E. defense
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The payoff at the end of the NFL’s highest-scoring season was a down-and-dirty Super Bowl LIII that was duller than a Bill Belichick news conference.
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New England fans cared not a whit.
All that mattered was their wicked good Patriots outlasted the Rams, 13-3, Sunday night to win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl title in nine appearances over the past 17 seasons. In that span, New England’s coach-quarterback duo of Belichick and Tom Brady have become the greatest such combo in league annals.
Brady’s hit-and-miss play Sunday night reminded me of the Toby Keith song. To paraphrase, “Brady ain’t as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was,” that ONCE being the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Brady, 41, became the oldest-winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. After a frustrating, substandard game, Brady pulled it together for one classic drive that was the difference.
The game was a 3-3 tug-of-war through three quarters.
That’s when Brady and the Patriots finally got the offense clicking. Starting at its own 31 with 9:43 to play, New England drove 69 yards on five plays for the go-ahead touchdown. It began with a Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski wheel route that netted 17 yards. After a 13-yard completion to Julian Edelman and Rex Burkhead’s 7-yard carry, Brady hit Gronk for a 29-yard gain that gave the Patriots first-and-goal at the 2.
Gronkowski made a terrific catch on the play. He knifed between two defenders and made a fully extended diving catch. It was at once tremendous and just another pitch-and-catch for Brady and Gronk.
“He knows to trust in me and throw the ball,” he said of Brady. “And I’m going to grab it.”
Sony Michel slammed it in from 2 yards out for the touchdown to put New England up 10-3 with 7 minutes to play. Michel’s touchdown run was his sixth of the postseason and capped a strong performance in which he rushed 18 times for 94 yards.
“Finally got a touchdown and the defense played its best game of the year,” Brady said afterward.
The Patriots outrushed the Rams 154-62 as Los Angeles’ quarterback Jared Goff struggled to generate any offense. Goff completed just 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards and a 57.9 quarterback rating. He was sacked four times and never really looked comfortable.
The Rams’ best chance to tie the game came midway through the fourth quarter, but a promising drive was stymied when Goff was picked off by Stephon Gilmore at the Patriots’ 4-yard line.
After that, the Patriots sewed it up. Brady led them on a 9-play, 72-yard drive that was capped by Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal with 1:12 to play to make it 13-3.
The game’s oddities included the sarcastic cheers of fans after the Rams’ Johnny Hekker hammered a third quarter punt 65 yards – the longest punt in Super Bowl history.
For a while Hekker’s punt was in the conversation for the game’s most exciting moment.
The Rams’ offense looked impotent from the outset.
Goff was off and Todd Gurley II was a non-factor. Gurley rushed 10 times for an inconsequential 35 yards. C.J. Anderson banged away seven times for 22 yards.
New England’s defense – led by Belichick and coordinator Brian Flores (Miami’s next head coach) – was sensational. The Patriots’ three points allowed ties the ‘72 Dolphins’ “No Name Defense” for the fewest allowed in a Super Bowl.
At 66, Belichick is the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. He’s exactly twice as old as the Rams’ Sean McVay, who shared Goff’s “deer in the headlights” look much of the game.
It’s no wonder. McVay was schooled by the master.
Edelman, who caught 10 passes for 141 yards, was named the Super Bowl LIII MVP and for good reason. At times, Edelman was the Patriots’ entire offense, but he didn’t care.
Like New England’s fans only one thing mattered.
“It just matters that we won,” Edelman said. “It was a crazy year. We had a resilient bunch of guys.”
Indeed, the Patriots rebounded after a rocky start to finish 11-5. Then they coolly dispatched the highly-touted Chargers, the high-scoring Chiefs and the high-flying Rams.
So what conclusions can be drawn by the Packers and their fans following Super Bowl LIII?
Here are a couple takeaways:
** Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers an excellent chance to retool this offseason and make a serious run in 2019. Consider the Rams’ plight. They assemble the best defense money can buy to go with their smart-as-a-whip head coach. That was good enough to get the Rams to the big game, but their quarterback proved he couldn’t handle the game’s grandest stage.
Frankly, I’d rather be in Matt LaFleur’s shoes than McVay’s going into next season. When there is doubt at quarterback it’s difficult to overcome.
** Defense and special teams can’t be ignored. The Patriots don’t win without either. Brady’s effort was all-world in the fourth quarter, but pretty much all-awful up to that point.
The Pats don’t beat themselves. There weren’t foolish roughing-the-punter penalties or any such nonsense. The Packers need to adopt that same penalty-free aggression that LaFleur talks of and the Patriots play with.
** Don’t question LaFleur’s ability as an offensive coach because McVay (one of his mentors) went down in flames. It happens to young coaches, especially those with young QBs.
LaFleur will be judged on what he does, not where he worked or whom he worked for before he arrived.
I suspect McVay’s humiliating defeat will only serve to push him even harder. He’s not finished. He’s just getting started. Obviously, the same can be said of LaFleur.
Be patient and be glad that the Packers have Rodgers. Building a team around him won’t be easy. Then again, it’s better than building a Super Bowl-caliber team like the Rams, only to doubt the trigger man.