The New England Patriots turned in one of their best defensive efforts in ages on the biggest stage, leading the way to a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Rams QB Jared Goff was under fire most of the game, and head coach Sean McVay — the architect of one of the most explosive offenses the past two seasons — had no answers for what Bill Belichick, Brian Flores and the Patriots' defenders cooked up.
“We felt like if we could make them drive it, make them earn it, similar to what the Lions did ... make them run a lot of plays, and if we get them in third down, we felt like we could get them off the field,” Belichick said.
That he tipped his cap to Matt Patricia, the Lions head coach and former Patriots assistant, gives a window into how the Patriots found some Rams weaknesses leading up to the Super Bowl in a game Detroit lost to the Rams in Week 13, 30-16, but made it tough on them up until the final minutes.
Flores now is expected to leave to take the Miami Dolphins' head-coaching job. He was not officially the Patriots' defensive coordinator in his first year calling plays after Patricia left, but Flores was a big reason this defense rallied down the stretch. The Dolphins have to feel even better about their prospective hire now as he constantly put the Rams in uncomfortable spots with his defensive calls.
But a candid McVay also took some of the blame for the Rams' schedule.
“No other way to say it," he said, "I got out-coached tonight.”
The Rams gained only 260 yards on Sunday (55 coming on the final drive while the Patriots were in prevent coverage) and 14 first downs. The Rams were 3-of-13 on third downs and crossed into New England territory only four times all game. On the final time they drove deep on the Patriots, an all-out blitz against Goff produced the game-sealing play — a Stephon Gilmore interception at the 4-yard line.
Goff had tried to hit Brandin Cooks on the play but was affected by the pressure with 4:17 left and the Patriots desperately hanging onto a 10-3 lead in one of the lowest-scoring Super Bowls ever. Gilmore, who also knocked down three passes in the game, atoned on the play after earlier committing a defensive hold that gave the Rams an automatic first down after what appeared to be a 3rd-and-11 stop.
The Patriots' sometimes-maligned defense allowed 24 points or more seven times this season but started to play its best ball down the stretch. It allowed 32 points combined in the final three regular-season games and threw off the timing and rhythm of the explosive offenses of the Chargers and Chiefs in their first two playoff games. Then came this Super Bowl masterpiece.
In this game, the Patriots were credited with 12 QB hits, and they sacked Goff four times — two by Dont'a Hightower. Kyle Van Noy also played a brilliant game with a sack, three QB hits and a few crucial third-down stops. That this unit finished off this game with safety Patrick Chung leaving early in the second half with an arm injury and with Hightower missing time with what appeared to be a hand injury made it all the more impressive.
This was the fewest points the Rams have scored in any game under McVay. Belichick's defense held the Jets to three points earlier this season, but this was by far the more impressive performance. This Rams team might not have been quite the offensive juggernaut since Cooper Kupp went down in Week 11 and Todd Gurley's knee limited him late in the season and into the playoffs. But this was still a unit that could put up points in a big way, such as the 54 they dropped on the Chiefs in Week 12.
Tom Brady was held without a TD pass for the first time in a Super Bowl. He finished the game 21-of-35 passing for 262 yards with an interception and a 71.4 QB rating. Brady frankly was just OK, missing some open throws, but he did enough to win.
Goff, however, had a rough game outside of a few patches in the second half when he found a little rhythm. He finished 19-of-38 passing for 229 yards with a 57.9 rating. The Patriots simply never allowed him to get comfortable, manufacturing pressure all game against the Rams' offensive line.
Reminiscent of the Patriots' first Super Bowl win over the Rams in early 2002, the defensive backs were physical with the wide receivers all game. Patriots DBs broke up two would-be touchdowns — Jason McCourty knocking the ball from Cooks late in the third quarter and then Duron Harmon (Chung's replacement) against Cooks on the play prior to the Gilmore interception.
When Greg Zuerlein missed a field-goal try with :08 remaining, the Patriots started celebrating their sixth title. Brady now holds the record for most Super Bowl victories by a single player, and Julian Edelman was named the game's MVP, but they couldn't have done it without the Patriots' defense turning in a vintage performance.