ATLANTA — Let’s face it: This Super Bowl was the equivalent of the story your grandmother has told too many times. It was a hell of a story, long ago, back when Tom Brady was “Tom Brady?” and the Rams’ offensive genius was Mike Martz instead of Sean McVay, and a combination of Bill Belichick’s defensive wizardry and one fourth-quarter drive led by Brady produced a win. That was the story when the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI 17 years ago. It was the story again Sunday, when they beat the Rams 13–3 in Super Bowl LIII. The difference this time is that you might have fallen asleep.
You might wonder why McVay (Martz) did not get the ball more to arguably the game’s best running back, Todd Gurley (Marshall Faulk) to get the Rams’ explosive offense going. After the game McVay said, “I know there’s a handful of decisions that I’m going to want back, for sure,” just as Martz said, “Sure, there are some things I'd liked to have done differently that just didn't work.” But in the end, it didn’t matter. Brady and the Patriots were wiser, more adaptable and more efficient, and by the end, when one team needed a play instead of a mistake, it was obviously going to be New England.
You’re tired of it? They don’t care. The Pats kept throwing to diminutive but uncoverable receiver Julian Edelman (Wes Welker) (Deion Branch), a guy who was never supposed to be this good and would surely never be this good anywhere else. Edelman, who came back from a torn ACL suffered during the 2017 preseason, caught 10 passes for 140 yards against the Rams, and won Super Bowl MVP, 14 years after Branch came back from a knee injury, caught 11 catches for 131 yards against the Eagles, and won Super Bowl MVP.
The Patriots traded Branch for a first-round pick rather than sign him to a big contract, just as they traded receiver Brandin Cooks for a first-round pick rather than sign him to a big contract. Cooks was on the field Sunday, for the Rams, and he had a lousy night. We keep waiting for the Patriots to let a star leave and actually miss him, but it hasn’t really happened yet.
You want to talk trades?
“Jason, we made a good trade,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said as he walked through the locker room. He was talking to star defensive back Jason McCourty (Devin McCourty), who broke up what should have been a touchdown pass to Cooks.
“You won’t hear me complaining,” Jason McCourty told Kraft.
Both McCourtys are classic Patriots: smart, talented, and capable of learning new defensive wrinkles every week. Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said, “They played a ton of man all year and this game they played a lot of zone. They kind of flipped the percentages.” Two weeks after the Patriots stopped MVP Patrick Mahomes for a half in the AFC Championship Game, they stopped Jared Goff completely in the Super Bowl.
Goff looked uncomfortable all night, from the first drive (a three-and-out) to his postgame media session, when he sat down, found the microphone at an awkward height, and decided to stand up.
“I expected to score a lot more points than that,” Goff said. “It sucks the way it turned out.”
Well, it sucked for him. The Rams turned out to be just another team with a glitzy offense that arrived in a spaceship and left in an ambulance. The Patriots do that to you. New England center David Andrews said, “We knew we were in better shape, better conditioned. We knew we were the tougher team.”
How tough? Patrick Chung injured his arm in gruesome fashion and screamed on the ground, but he said it was out of “frustration,” not pain. In the locker room after the game, he needed help putting on his socks and his belt.
“My brothers fought and finished the game,” he said. “So we’re good.”
Chung arrived in New England in 2009 and has spent all but one season of his career there. The story is repetitive to him, too. But he loves it.
“I mean, it’s been the same for 10 years, man,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to change.”
It will change, eventually. But that’s hard to believe when you watch Stephon Gilmore (Ty Law) intercept Goff to effectively seal the game, or Stephen Gostkowski (Adam Vinatieri) overcame an early miss to really seal it.
The Patriots adapt but don’t change. They adjust but don’t panic. They have bad games but never bad seasons, and they are usually a hell of a show. This one was a dud, but it was their dud, and they kind of welcomed the dud, actually.
“I was happy it didn’t come down to the last, last play like it has so many times,” Brady said afterward.
They were proud and please and not all that exuberant, at least not immediately. Other than linebacker Kyle Van Noy yelling “That’s my dog! Make ‘em bleed!” at Donta Hightower, and a few younger players dancing, they were as subdued as any Super Bowl winner in memory. Maybe they were just tired. Maybe the lack of excitement in the game carried over a bit afterward.
What’s next? Brady will be back. Belichick will presumably be back. Gronkowski could retire, and Pats defensive coordinator Brian Flores (Romeo Crennel) (Eric Mangini) (Matt Patricia) is leaving to be the Dolphins’ head coach.
But this is what won’t happen: they won’t get soft, content or tired of it all. They won’t pay Edelman like the best receiver in the league just because he won Super Bowl MVP. They won’t chase stars, they won’t stubbornly stick with a game plan that isn’t working, and they won’t dwell on this win.
We promise: you won’t have to watch Super Bowl LIII again, ever. We wouldn’t do that to you. But at least take a moment to appreciate it. The Patriots won their sixth (fifth) (fourth) (third) (second) (first) Super Bowl because everybody did their job (did their job) (did their job) (did their job) (did their job) (did their job).
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