Patriots 13, Rams 3: Patriots Win in Lowest-Scoring Super Bowl Ever
ATLANTA — The New England Patriots’ dynasty began exactly 17 years ago Sunday, when the most fruitful partnership in N.F.L. history launched its transformation from plucky upstarts to league overlords. Coach Bill Belichick tamed the explosive Rams, and quarterback Tom Brady commanded an efficient offense.
The Patriots commemorated the anniversary by securing another championship against the same franchise, in a similar way, for a title that represents not a bookend so much as an ellipsis. New England’s reign is as relentless as a downpour, and without precedent.
The Patriots claimed their sixth title in 18 seasons by edging the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in a slog of a Super Bowl LIII.
Like their previous five Super Bowl victories under Belichick and Brady, Sunday’s was not decided until late, on Sony Michel’s 2-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left.
One final stop — Stephon Gilmore’s interception near the goal line with 4 minutes 17 seconds remaining — punctuated a defensive effort that evoked Belichick’s first masterpiece against the Rams, when he sapped their potency by erasing the versatile back Marshall Faulk. Against this Rams team, the league’s second-ranked offense, New England forced punts on nine of 12 possessions and five three-and-outs.
The Patriots’ performance will ricochet around their empire as Belichick’s magnum opus, but it will be remembered outside New England as a grind, lacking the offensive artistry that defined this record-setting season.
It was as if after all the marks shattered — the most touchdowns scored, the most touchdown passes thrown — the ball decided, in the 267th and final game, that it was just too exhausted to breach the end zone anymore. It did so only once.
These Rams and Patriots will be forever linked in Super Bowl ignominy: the fewest combined points, the lowest-scoring first half in 44 years (3 points), the most time elapsed without a touchdown. That stretch ended at the time when Brady asserts his primacy.
All of Brady’s other championships have come after the score was tied, or the Patriots were trailing, in the fourth quarter. In those situations, Brady was 45 for 59 with 503 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. Taking over at his 31-yard line with 9:49 left, Brady connected on four straight passes for 67 yards, including a 29-yard beauty to Rob Gronkowski down the left side that preceded Michel’s touchdown, his sixth of the playoffs.
“I’ll tell you this,” Gronkowski said, “it was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of. How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal.”
Brady, at age 41, finished 21 of 35 for 262 yards, with more than half of that total — 141 — going to Julian Edelman. A year after missing the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia with a knee injury and being suspended for the first four games of this season for violating the N.F.L.’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Edelman was selected as the game’s most valuable player.
“He just played the best game he has all year,” Brady said.
In a league designed for parity, Brady and Belichick have destroyed it. Together, they have made nine Super Bowls, including the last three. The Miami Dolphins, from 1972-74, and Buffalo Bills, from 1991-94, accomplished that feat before the Patriots, but neither had New England’s staying power.
Only one other franchise has won six Super Bowls, and it took the Pittsburgh Steelers 34 years to collect their Lombardi Trophies. The Patriots needed half as long.
“We’ve never seen the likes of it; we’ll never see it again — ever,” the Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick said last week. “The league’s just not structured that way.”
The Patriots’ infrastructure — owned, coached and quarterbacked by the same men during this run — and ruthless roster manipulation gives them a chance every season to extend the dynasty. Rarely, though, is that pathway linear.
Belichick’s charge this season, as always, was to discern the identity of this team instead of recreating that of another one. The Patriots’ quest for self-discovery meandered through a pair of two-game losing streaks, three double-digit defeats and five road setbacks until, in late December, after falling at Pittsburgh, they found equilibrium.
Complementing quick passing with power running, New England averaged 177.8 on the ground across its last five games. That approach powered the Patriots past two A.F.C. West behemoths, the Chargers and the Chiefs, and on Sunday it helped them gash the Rams for 154 yards, 94 from Michel. The lesson, as ever: The Patriots are not vulnerable so much as they are procrastinators, evolving before they can pounce.
Back when Brady won his first Super Bowl, Sean McVay was a 16-year-old sophomore at the Marist School, 15 miles to the north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He is now, at 33, the youngest coach in the N.F.L., hired by the Rams two years ago, after they finished their first season back in Los Angeles as a bumbling mess, and tasked with shaping a winning team and energizing a fan base.
One of McVay’s many aphorisms — Sean-isms, as they’re called — is “the standard is the standard.” The Rams won consecutive division titles, but as they gazed across the field Sunday they saw the personification of that standard, a team whose sustained success they hoped to emulate.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff grew up watching Brady, like him a son of Northern California, while McVay exchanges text messages with Belichick. The mastermind outwitted the prodigy, and McVay knew it, blaming his play-calling and an absent feel for the game’s flow.
“There’s no other way to say it,” McVay said. “I got out-coached tonight.”
McVay surrounded himself with sharp assistants, including the defensive coordinator Wade Philips, who, when scheming against a quarterback like Brady, abides by a singular credo.
“You can’t fool the great quarterbacks, anyway,” he said. “You have to outplay them.”
In the A.F.C. championship game three years ago, when Phillips led the Broncos’ defense, Denver’s pass-rush pummeled Brady all game. Brady’s protection in the playoffs had been so good entering the Super Bowl — 90 dropbacks, no sacks, according to Pro Football Focus — that he posted to his Instagram story a photo of his jersey, white and pristine, and tagged his offensive linemen.
Early on, the Rams’ coverage and pressure discombobulated New England. On his first pass, Brady’s wobbly throw was deflected, and then intercepted by Cory Littleton. On the Patriots’ next drive, they called two timeouts before Stephen Gostkowski hooked a 46-yard field goal, missing a kick in the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year. On the series after that, John Franklin-Myers strip-sacked Brady, but New England recovered the fumble.
In a matchup of two of the N.F.L.’s four highest-scoring teams, nearly 20 minutes elapsed before Gostkowski scored the game’s first points, on a 42-yarder with 10:29 left before halftime. The Patriots’ 3-0 lead — which signified the fewest first-half points scored in a Super Bowl since Pittsburgh led Minnesota, 2-0, in 1975 — did not seem insurmountable. But it did increase the likelihood that Belichick, aided by the defensive play-caller Brian Flores, again had concocted a strategy to foil a prolific offense in the Super Bowl. (Flores, 37, is expected to become the coach of the Miami Dolphins this week.)
As Belichick did against the 1990 Bills, when he worked for the Giants, and the 2016 Falcons, who did not score for the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, he silenced the Rams like no other team since McVay took over.
Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said the defense was focused on taking Goff, just 24, out of the game.
“I think we felt if we stopped the run and put it into his hands, it played in our advantage,” Van Noy said.
In 35 previous games under McVay, the Rams had never been held scoreless at halftime. On Sunday they gained 57 yards, their fewest in a first half this season — or 36 fewer than Edelman, who shredded the Rams on underneath routes. Los Angeles advanced only as far as the New England 46 yard line, punting on all six drives.
That meant Johnny Hekker punted more times than Goff completed passes (five) or the Rams recorded first downs (two).
“I think you’re just numb in a way,” Goff said. “We’re trying to process it all, but we know what happened. We got outplayed. We got completely outplayed.”
After Los Angeles opened the second half with, yes, two more punts, Goff connected on his two best throws to that point — a 15-yarder to Brandin Cooks and, on third-and-6 from the New England 47, an 18-yard dart over the middle to Robert Woods. Three plays later, Greg Zuerlein drilled a 53-yarder that evened the score at 3-3.
The score stayed tied until Michel’s touchdown, and Los Angeles had one last, best opportunity to equalize. On second down from the Patriots’ 27, just after Duron Harmon swooped in to break up a deep pass to Cooks, Goff looked that way again. This time, his pass was underthrown, and Gilmore, draping Cooks, leapt to grab it.
“I knew Jared Goff was going to chuck it up,” Gilmore said. “It was probably one of the easiest picks I’ve had all year.”
Gostkowski extended the margin of victory with a 41-yarder with 1:12 left, and after Zuerlein missed a 48-yarder, a final act of desperation, the Patriots swarmed the field, the scene familiar and new all at once.
They have assembled this unyielding dynasty behind Gronkowski and Edelman, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower, and hundreds of others. But only two men have witnessed it all from the start. Neither Brady nor Belichick has indicated he intends to retire, and why would they? The everlasting champions, for the sixth time in 18 seasons, have a title to defend.