A Super Bowl history of Tom Brady and the Patriots dynasty
Of course this is how Super Bowl LIII would end.
A mind-numbingly boring game capped by a Tom Brady-quarterbacked and Bill Belichick-schemed game-winning drive. Plus, a game-sealing interception by Stephon Gilmore and an insurance field goal by Stephen Goskowski.
Those scrappy underdogs did it again.
With a 13-3 win against the Los Angeles Rams, the dynastic Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl since 2002, making Brady, at 41, the oldest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. Brady earned his sixth ring, Belichick his eighth (sixth as a head coach). They won their first together in 2002.
This one was an ironic end to the 2018 season. A year defined by explosive offenses came down to a defensive struggle and a punt-fest.
“Last time I checked, defense wins championships,” Rams running back CJ Anderson said. “Every Super Bowl I’ve been in, defense wins championships — 48, the Seahawks won it; 50, we won it. Now 53, New England won it. Last time I checked, defense wins championships. That saying has been in football for a very long time.”
Until the Rams finally converted a third down — their first in nine tries — on an 18-yard pass in the third quarter, the most banner-worthy moment of the night was Johnny Hekker’s record-setting 65-yard punt for the Rams, good for the longest in Super Bowl history, and Gostkowski’s 42-yard field goal for the Pats.
In fact, most of the highlights Sunday night — at least before the fourth quarter — came from Hekker and his Patriots counterpart.
By early in the fourth quarter, Hekker had amassed 378 yards on eight punts. Meanwhile, New England’s Ryan Allen had five punts for 215 yards.
And to think, we were a no-call and an offsides flag away from an electrifying showdown between the NFL’s MVP and the runner-up. But more on that later.
The Chiefs were so close to playing in this game, and had they made it instead of the Patriots, the new MVP — as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was crowned Saturday night — might have given the world more offense.
Instead, we got this.
Not that Brady was apologizing afterward.
“We just kept fighting and finally got a touchdown,” Brady said. “Our defense played their best game of the year.”
With Todd Gurley, the league’s second-highest paid running back, on the sideline more than he was on the field, the Rams’ offense sputtered for most of the night. And when it finally seemed they were capable of making a late fourth-quarter surge, Rams quarterback Jared Goff followed up a near-touchdown strike to Brandin Cooks with a goal-line interception into the arms of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
On paper, the Rams came into the game with one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. Between running back Gurley and Goff throwing to a trio of talented receivers in Cooks, Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods, it seemed like the squad that relocated from St. Louis in 2016 would be able to do something against the Patriots.
Instead, L.A. never seemed to find a rhythm thanks to the Patriots’ decision to go away from their signature man-to-man coverage looks in favor of more zone defense.
“They run a lot of overs and posts and it’s a lot of running,” Gilmore said. “And the coaches know and put us in the right positions to make plays. You never know who you’re going against, the type of coverages you’re going to play. We were able to capitalize on their mistakes.”
“We can play zone. We can play man. We do whatever it takes to win. That’s what it’s about.”
At halftime, the Rams had gained only 57 yards and two first downs. By the end of the third quarter, it wasn’t much better: 124 yards and six first downs. L.A. did have three points, courtesy of former Missouri Western kicker Greg Zuerlein’s 53-yard field goal, the second-longest in Super Bowl history.
“I’m numb,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I got out-coached”
In a game void of eye-popping plays, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman often amounted to the lone bright spot of offense. He catalyzed the Patriots’ offense with 10 receptions for 141 yards and was named Super Bowl MVP.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had the longest play for either team when he hauled in a 29-yard reception to set up running back Sony Michel’s two-yard touchdown run.
Much like the second, the first half will be remembered more for what it lacked than what it contained.
It was a two-quarter snoozefest in which one team had 57 yards and no third-down conversions and the other managed a single field goal.
In a demonstration of futility and absurdity, Brady’s first pass was picked off and Gostkowski had the first missed field goal in Mercedes-Benz Stadium all season. Kickers were 31-of-31 before he sent one barely wide left from 46 yards out.
Everything about Super Bowl LIII was underwhelming. Unless, of course, you were one of the thousands of Patriots fans that turned Mercedes-Benz Stadium into Gillette South.
“This is a dream come true for all of us,” Brady said.
The week leading up to Sunday’s game was mostly devoid of fresh storylines, too, a byproduct of the Patriots’ frequent trips to the season finale. And the focus on the no-call against L.A. in the NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints seemed to detract from the buzz around the Rams.
The aforementioned offsides call was assessed against Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford in their heartbreaking Jan. 20 AFC title-game loss to New England — part of what kept KC from playing in the finale. That game went to overtime, where Brady and the Patriots won the OT coin flip and promptly scored a touchdown, preventing Mahomes from touching the ball again.
Sunday night, with a missed 48-yard field goal from the kicker who had been nothing but automatic all year, the game — and the 2018 season — would soon mercifully come to a close.
And afterward, the predictability and inevitability of it all filtered into the Patriots’ locker room. Of course, there were the celebratory hugs and photos of players kissing the Lombardi Trophy.
But it felt familiar. Too familiar.
Like it was something that was supposed to happen and usually did.
For the first 10 minutes or so of the open postgame locker room, it was mostly quiet as a few players gathered near their stalls. As more players filtered in from the interview area, the locker room chatter picked up a bit.
It took about 15 minutes for someone to produce a bottle of champagne. And even then, the players just danced with that single bottle, not spraying it as they jammed to rap music that eventually played through the giant Bumpboxx.
As the low-key celebration died down, team owner Robert Kraft appeared in the locker room with a box of Padron 50th Anniversary cigars.
He put the box down on a chair and began passing them out to players with an assist from a security guard.
A few minutes later, Brady walked by with his duffel bag on his way out the door. The quarterback inquired about the box of cigars. The security guard told him what they were and offered him one.
“No thanks,” Brady said. “You keep it.”
Maybe next year.