Defensive display helps Patriots to sixth Super Bowl

The 2019 Super Bowl Logo is shown. Via AJC.com

The old adage that “defense wins championships” held true on Sunday night when the New England Patriots clinched their sixth Super Bowl with a 13–3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in a game dictated by defensive schemes from both sides.

The first three quarters set Super Bowl records for being one of the most defensive-minded Super Bowls ever. On top of being the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, the 3-0 lead held by the Patriots at half time marked the lowest-scoring first-half since the Pittsburgh Steelers held a 2-0 lead over the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 Super Bowl. This year’s Super Bowl was also the first which had no touchdowns after three quarters.

In the end, however, it came down to another vintage game-sealing touchdown drive from 41-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This also marked the biggest winning margin that Brady and the Patriots have held in any of their Super Bowl victories. Brady was 21-of-35 and finished with 262 yards and one interception. The 2019 Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman finished with a game-high of 10 receptions and 141 yards. With most of his catches coming in the first half, Edelman helped to keep the Pats offense going early on. The Patriots run game was also dominant, with rookie running back Sony Michel leading the way with 18 carries for 94 yards and one touchdown.

New England started with four consecutive run plays after wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kick-off to the New England-39. However, on Brady’s first throw, the veteran misread the defensive coverage, and middle linebacker Cory Littleton picked off the ball.

The Patriots defense managed to force a three-and-out, and the offense made a huge conversion on third-and-9. However, that drive ended with kicker Stephen Gostkowski missing a 46-yard field goal attempt. It was the first missed attempt this season in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This was also Gostkowski’s fourth missed kick in the last three Super Bowls.

The Rams punted two more times. On the subsequent drive, the Patriots marched the ball down to the Los Angeles-40. But defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s pressure on Brady ensured that the future Hall of Famer would not have a TD pass in his ninth Super Bowl appearance.

The Rams were plagued by a lack of execution on offense, epitomized by their third-year quarterback Jared Goff taking a big sack from Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy for a loss of 14 yards on third-and-2 with just under five minutes to play in the first half.

Indeed, for all the talk about the Rams offense this season, the Patriots held the Rams to just 57 total yards and limited them to just two first downs on 22 plays from scrimmage in the first half. The Rams’ running backs, Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson, were limited to just 25 total yards from scrimmage. This handed Sean McVay his first shutout half as Rams head coach. In contrast, the Patriots picked up 195 total yards from 40 plays, picking up 12 first downs along the way.

The second half started in the same way the first ended. Both teams picked up big chunk plays in their opening drives of the half through Gurley’s 16-yard run for the Rams and Edelman’s 27-yard catch for the Patriots, but were once again forced to punt. The Rams offense finally started to click late in the third quarter, marching to the New England-26. However, Goff took a big sack on third-and-7, forcing them to settle for a 53-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein to tie the game.

The Pats then punted in their next drive, giving the Rams an opportunity to take the lead. They were aided by a holding penalty on Patriots’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore on a third-and-11 play to keep the drive alive. An offensive holding penalty set them back 10 yards before Goff took a two-yard loss to set up second-and-22 from the Los Angeles-33. The Rams failed to get the first down as Goff overlooked an open Josh Reynolds on second down to look for Brandin Cooks downfield instead, without success. This forced the Rams to punt and handed the initiative back to the Patriots, which they seized on the next drive.

If tight end Rob Gronkowski has played his last NFL game, he went out in the best way possible in the Patriots final meaningful offensive drive. Brady found Gronkowski for 18 yards to start the drive; three plays later, Brady found his favorite tight end for 29 yards to set the Patriots up first-and-goal from the two-yard line. This set the stage for Michel to punch it in for his sixth post-season rushing touchdown, an NFL rookie record.

With the game on the line with seven minutes left, the mantle was placed on Goff’s shoulders. Goff made a big completion to former Patriot Cooks for 19 yards to start the drive. Then, on a third-and-9 play, the Rams converted through Reynolds. Robert Woods then picked up a big chunk play on the next drive, before a combination of Gilmore and Duron Harmon broke up the pass intended for Cooks. It was a sign of things to come, as Goff was then placed under pressure on the next play. Lofting it downfield for Cooks, Gilmore picked off the ball to put the Patriots in a commanding position.

The Patriots run game then led them down the field to set up a 41-yard field goal for Gostkowski to effectively seal the game for the Patriots with a two-score lead. A missed field goal by Zuerlein put the ball into Brady’s hands; a minute later, he took a knee to seal his sixth Super Bowl victory.

In a legacy-defining victory, Brady now passes former San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Charles Haley with most Super Bowl victories. Coach Bill Belichick also extends his lead (six) for the most Super Bowl victories as a head coach over former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll (four). The Patriots also tie the Steelers for the most number of Super Bowl victories (six). Though not pretty, the Patriots and its old guard shut the door on the NFL’s upstarts in a staunch defiance to a supposedly crumbling dynasty.


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