ATLANTA – Eleven years ago, the Patriots missed by one game beating Miami at one of the NFL’s most venerable records.
At Super Bowl LIII, the Patriot defense saluted the Dolphins in quite another way.
In one of the most impressive and historic defensive performances in recent NFL history, the Patriots tied the Dallas Cowboys in allowing the fewest points by an opponent in Super Bowl history. Way back in Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys held the Miami Dolphins to only a field goal in a 24-3 win. 47 years later, the Patriots held the Los Angeles Rams to only a field goal, never allowing Todd Gurley to take over the game and pressuring Jared Goff all game long.
But most important, the Patriots tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins in Super Bowl history. A tight defensive struggle was finally broken up in the fourth quarter, as a late touchdown by Sony Michel and a late field goal by Stephen Gostkowski helped the Patriots to a 13-3 win Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl, the 12th title for a New England team since Y2K, and the win firmly established the Patriots as the dominant team of this millennium, and this run by the Patriots the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Even more important, this game may have turned an important corner in the career of Julian Edelman. The stout slot receiver for the Patriots caught ten passes for 141 yards, and earned a richly deserved Super Bowl MVP honors. Moreover, Edelman is now being mentioned as possible Hall of Fame material, along with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft. Ty Law got into Canton on Saturday, and Edelman is now beginning to receive that kind of love from NFL observers. And given how clutch he is in postseason games, you have to pause and think about it.
The 13-3 final score represents the lowest combined point total in Super Bowl history. Both defenses came to play, which makes Edelman’s night even more impressive. Michel came on late to almost eclipse the 100-yard mark rushing again (he finished with 94 yards rushing on 18 carries). Rob Gronkowski, in what may have been his last game in the NFL, chipped in with six catches for 87 yards. Rex Burkhead also contributed late, with 43 yards on seven carries. Brady was 21 of 35 for 262 yards, an interception and a 71.4 rating. Edelman outshone them all, and his MVP is beyond debate.
Despite the great game by Edelman, the Patriots won thanks to their defense. The Patriots’ first two drives ended in an interception and a missed field goal, yet the Rams were totally unable to take advantage of those miscues. The Rams’ deepest penetration was the Patriot 26. Their only score came on a 53-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein in the third quarter which tied the game at 3-3 at the time.
The fourth quarter was all Patriots, and they put the game away with a championship sequence that was both offensively and defensively wonderful to watch.
The Rams began the fourth quarter beginning at their own 7. Nine plays later, they made it only to their 30, after Gurley was stopped for a one-yard loss on third and 22. The Patriots got the ball at their own 31 after a Johnny Hekker punt (Hekker had an incredible nine punts in this game, including a 65-yarder which was the longest punt in Super Bowl history).
Brady then finally became Brady, for at least one series. He hit Gronkowski for 18 yards on a nice right sideline lob toss, then hit Edelman for 13 yards over the middle. After a seven-yard run by Burkhead, Brady flipped a beautiful lob pass to the left side, right into the arms of Gronkowski to the Rams’ 2. The pass was lofted perfectly over the head of Cory Littleton and into the arms of Gronk. On the next play, Michel plowed in from two yards out behind a perfect James Develin block.
Time for the defense to put its rubber stamp on this game. Goff took over at the 25 and finally found a rhythm, hitting former Patriot Brandin Cooks for 19, Josh Reynolds for 11 and Robert Woods for 17. But on second and ten at the Patriot 27, Goff hurried a throw to the end zone, underthrew the ball and Stephon Gilmore made the pick in front of his former teammate Cooks. The Patriots put the game away with 26-yard runs by Michel and Burkhead, bleeding the Rams dry of timeouts, and a clinching field goal by Gostkowski from 41 yards out to ice it.
The Rams got the ball back down two scores with 1:12 left, and drove to the Patriot 30. With eight seconds left, Sean McVay opted for a field goal, but Zuerlein yanked a 48-yard attempt wide left and victory belonged to the Patriots.
Tuesday’s Duck Boat parade will be the 12th such parade since 2002, and will certainly be just as sweet as all the others. But in this case, absent of any controversies, this one also has to rank right up there on the sweetness scale. The Patriots were 3-5 in road games this year, and got pasted early on by Jacksonville and Detroit on the road. Yet they finished with a blowout win at home against the Chargers, then an epic win at Kansas City to get here, and then holding the powerful Rams to just three points. The Patriots did their jobs in reducing Goff and Gurley to non-factors. This effort tops the previous two playoff wins, and ranks among the finest defensive performances in Patriot history, if not the finest.
More than ever, the old adage “it’s not how you start, but how you finish” applies here. The 2001 Patriots, who also beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, also finished the regular season 11-5. So did these Patriots. This finish by what many experts wrote off as not one of the stronger Patriot teams in recent history might make this one just as sweet as the one two years ago. The Rams were held to only 260 total yards. Gurley had only 35 yards rushing, Goff had only 229 yards passing and a rating of 57.9. That is the stuff of legend, simply put.
The Patriots and their fans will celebrate way into the night, and come out in droves to see still another parade on Tuesday. It’s a tradition around here that never gets old. National pundits can say what they want about being sick of the Patriots winning again. Around here, such talk goes in one ear and out the other. You never get tired of it, and you hope it lasts forever.
Champions again. Sixth time. Only three points given up. It really is time to party, Patriot Nation.