Wednesday 26 June 2019

Old-fashioned methods clinch title No 6 for modern Patriots

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski catches a pass ahead of Rams’ Cory Littleton (58) during Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday night. Photo: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski catches a pass ahead of Rams’ Cory Littleton (58) during Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday night. Photo: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Pells

Greying but still gritty, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots came to the Super Bowl intending to stave off, for at least one more game, the inevitable onslaught of the NFL's future.

Job well done.

Pro football never looked flatter, older and more stuck in the days of the VCR.

In a Super Bowl only New England could love, the Patriots won their sixth title by lumbering their way to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams - that young, brash, high-flying team with the 33-year-old coach and the 24-year-old quarterback who were, we thought, changing football before our very eyes. If we could only keep them open.

Among the Super Bowl records set: Fewest points by both teams (16); fewest points by the winning team (13); fewest combined points through three quarters (6); most consecutive drives ending with a punt (8 by the Rams); longest punt (65 yards).

Maroon 5's half-time show offered no relief - one reviewer calling it "Empty. Boring. Basic. Sleepy."

He could have said the same about the game. But give credit where it's due.

The defence designed by Belichick turned Rams quarterback Jared Goff into a jittery mess. He completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, with an assortment of rushed throws, misread coverages and, in the tiny windows in which LA showed any sign of life, a pair of terrible passes.

One, trailing 3-0 in the third quarter, was late and high to wide-open Brandin Cooks in the end zone; the other, trailing 10-3 with 4:17 left in the final quarter, was high for an easy interception by Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore that essentially ended the game.

"I know I definitely have a lot to learn from this one," said Rams coach Sean McVay, who is exactly half the age of Belichick.

Gilmore's interception came minutes after Brady engineered the game's lone touchdown drive.

It was five plays and included four straight completions: 18 yards to Rob Gronkowski, 13 yards to Julian Edelman, seven yards to back-up running back Rex Burkhead, then a 29-yard teardrop placed perfectly into the arms of Gronkowski, who was double-covered. Sony Michel ran it in from two yards for the touchdown with seven minutes left.

"We couldn't get points on the board for one reason or another," Brady said. "But in the end, it feels a lot better than last year, when we did get some points on the board."

Last year, the Patriots fell 41-33 to Philadelphia Eagles in a back-and-forth thriller. The year before, they scored 31 points in the second half and overtime for a riveting 34-28 comeback win over Atlanta and title No 5.

Then, this.

New England's road to a sixth Lombardi Trophy - tied with Pittsburgh for the most - was never easy. They lost five times, didn't have home-field advantage through the play-offs and, after every loss, were beset by questions over whether the 41-year-old Brady and his 66-year-old coach might be winding down.

Through it all, though, they could score. New England averaged 27.2 points a game. And in the run through the play-offs, the offence scored 10 touchdowns and Brady barely got touched.

They were not clicking like that on Sunday. Other than Edelman, whose 10 catches for 141 yards won him MVP honours, the Patriots were out of sync. Brady's first pass got intercepted. He went 21 for 35 for 262 yards and a passer rating of 71.4 - more than 26 points lower than he averaged this season.

Attempts

New England out-gained Los Angeles 195-57 in the first half, but settled for two field goal attempts - one miss and one make - for a 3-0 lead at the break.

It was 3-3 heading into the fourth quarter - the fewest points through the first 45 minutes of any play-off game in almost 40 years.

Maybe the biggest irony of all: The New England dynasty's five previous Super Bowl victories came by six points or less. Two were decided on the last play. Compared to that, this was a veritable runaway.

On a day when New England held LA running back Todd Gurley to 35 yards, when LA couldn't muster a drive longer than five plays for nearly three quarters, and when LA's Johnny Hekker (eight punts, 46.3 yard average) was his team's most effective player, a 10-point lead at the end felt like a million.

"It's a beautiful thing, man," said New England cornerback Jason McCourty. And a game only the Patriots could love.

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