It was one year ago that the New England Patriots took the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52. The Patriots were looking to become the first team in 13 years to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, but they ran into an upstart Philadelphia Eagles team that had other desires as they knocked off New England 41-33. In the loss however, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would set a Super Bowl record as he passed for 505 yards. Brady was brilliant for most of the evening, but the same could not be said about the Pats defense as they surrendered 538 yards to Philadelphia.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Patriots as there were skeptics who looked at this loss as a sign that their dynasty was coming to an end as they appeared to have lost some of their luster. That notion gained some traction during the 2018 National Football League season as the Patriots weren’t running roughshod over their opponents like they had in the past. New England finished the regular season with a record of 11-5 which actually marked their worst mark since 2009. New England was still able to win the AFC East for an unprecedented tenth consecutive year, but they didn’t appear to be a lock to make the Super Bowl, more less win it. However when the playoffs rolled around we saw a Patriots team take the field that was accustomed to the bright lights of playoff football, and they never looked back.
The Pats were still good enough to earn a first-round bye which allowed them to host the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round. The Chargers were the upstart team with the fierce pass rush that was expected to get to Brady, while their quarterback Philip Rivers was in the midst of an MVP caliber season.
But when everyone expected the Patriots to begin the game by throwing, they focused on the run and stuffed the football right down the throat of the Chargers. The vaunted Los Angeles defense had no answers for New England’s ground attack, while it was the Pats defense that stymied and confused Rivers. And before you blinked, New England was in possession of a 28-7 lead. The Patriots would cruise to an easy 41-28 victory with their next stop being a trip to the AFC Championship Game versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
The game-time temperature of 19 degrees at frigid Arrowhead Stadium didn’t scare the Patriots as they once again took the opening kickoff the field and scored a touchdown to set the tone, and quiet the raucous crowd in Kansas City. New England would hold the Chiefs scoreless in the first half before their offense would get it going in the second. The Patriots and Chiefs would go back and forth for the remainder of the contest as neither offense could be stopped which resulted in a 31-31 tie after 60 minutes.
And just like it was to begin the game, New England would win the coin toss to begin the extra period as they proceeded to march right down the field on the strength of their running game. And when it was all said and done, they’d keep on running to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.
But whereas the Chargers and Chiefs could not derail the Patriots express, they would meet a team in the Super Bowl that had the skills to upend them. The Los Angeles Rams had a very physical defense which was led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald who is the reigning National Football League Defensive Player of the Year. The Rams also had defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who has given Brady trouble over the years, as well as “the boy genius” of the coaching ranks in 33-year old Sean McVay. And even though that the Rams took the field in Atlanta this past Sunday as the more talented of the two teams, this game came down to execution which was a category that the Pats were light years ahead of them on.
On the opening drive of the game, the Patriots were held scoreless as Brady’s first pass of the contest was an interception that went into the hands of Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. But New England had set the tone in regards to running the football up the middle of the Rams defense; right at Donald and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Patriots would only score 3 points in the first half in spite of the fact that the majority of their possessions ended in Rams territory.
But the Patriots offense need not worry as their defense that was taken behind the woodshed last year versus the Eagles looked the 1985 Chicago Bears as they put a blanket on the Rams offense. Rams quarterback Jared Goff never got into a rhythm all evening as each time that he dropped back to pass, there was a wave of white jerseys in his face. And when a quarterback is struggling, it is always sound to switch to the running game, however the Rams rushing attack that had amassed more than 200 yards on the ground versus the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs was limited to just 62 which made the Los Angeles offense dimensional. This allowed Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Brian Flores the opportunity to turn their unit loose as Goff never knew where the extra man was coming from. And when Belichick called an all out blitz in the fourth quarter, Goff heaved a pass in the direction of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the one who was in position to catch it.
At this point of the contest the wind was out of the sails of the Rams defense that had been on the field too much as signs of fatigue were beginning to set in. Los Angeles had surrendered the first and only touchdown of the game on the Patriots previous drive, and now New England was in the position to march down the field, eat more of the game clock, and put the game on ice. Stephen Gostowski would make his second field goal of the game to give the Pats a 13-3 edge with just 72 second remaining in the contest, and at this point all that the Rams could do was realize that their dream of becoming Super Bowl Champions would have to wait for another season.
This Patriots team had been doubted all season long as there were those who ran with the notion that Brady is not the same quarterback that he once was. Brady would finish the contest this past Sunday 21-of-35 passing for 262 with no touchdowns and an interception. This was a far cry from last year’s Super Bowl where Brady was rewriting the record books, but he had to deal with a Rams defense that was making him uncomfortable for most of the game. However Brady was locked in when his team needed it the most as he was 4-of-4 of the drive that produced the only touchdown of the game which included finding tight end Rob Gronkowski on two huge connections.
New England’s defense was unheralded all season long as this cast of no-names and castoffs came together to “do their job” which is a Belichick moniker as he wants smart football players instead of those that are flashy. And even when the Pats lost veteran defensive back Patrick Chung in the second half to an arm injury, the next man up philosophy that New England lives by was once again center stage. In the third quarter the Rams offense finally got some life, and just as they appeared poised to score the game’s first touchdown, Goff was unable to connect with a wide open Cooks in the back of the end zone as defensive back Jason McCourty made sure to disconnect him from the football.
And as the Patriots were doubted all season long, it was fitting that the Super Bowl MVP was wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman was a seventh-round pick by the Patriots in 2009 after being a college quarterback at Kent State. But in 11 years Edelman has embodied “The Patriot Way” as in spite of the fact that he’s been overlooked, he works immensely at his craft in order to become one of the most dependable options for Brady in the pass game. Edelman finished Super Bowl 53 with 10 receptions for 141 yards as the Rams Pro Bowl cornerbacks of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters never had an answer for him.
So now the Patriots are in the midst of doing something that they’ve become very familiar with which is to celebrate a Super Bowl victory. Last night’s win marks New England’s sixth Super Bowl Title which ties the Steelers for the most in National Football League history. No player has won more Super Bowl Titles than Brady as he broke a tie with Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley, while at the ripe age of 66, Belichick became the oldest head coach in NFL history to win it all. And if anyone thinks that the Patriots have any intention of slowing down, think again.
Brady has already let it be known that he intends to return for the 2019 National Football League season as his desire to win at the age of 41 is the same that is was 20 years ago. Belichick can still cook up a game plan like no other to defeat teams, while he knows how to find the spare parts to fit his system. And although that Super Bowl 53 lacked the sizzle that most fans were expecting, the Patriots would not have had it another way as their ugly win last night easily trumped their pretty loss one year ago.