Tom Brady wasn’t vintage in Super Bowl LIII. Not even close.
He pulled out a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against a Los Angeles defense that was exhausted, but this wasn’t some 505-yard carving of the Eagles or a historic comeback against the Falcons.
He threw an awful interception on the game’s opening possession, and spent most of the night flustered against Wade Phillips’ defense. That was the type of performance that would make us wonder if father time was starting to catch up to the legend if the Rams had stepped up on offense.
But they didn’t, and because of it, Brady got to celebrate his record-breaking sixth Super Bowl on Sunday night in Atlanta. And the Rams doing nothing on offense was a testament to just how different this Super Bowl trip was for New England compared to the failed one of last season.
Every single thing that could’ve gone wrong for the Patriots defensively did in Minneapolis last year. A backup quarterback carved them up. There were serious, rightful, questions about the deployment of Malcolm Butler as their secondary was worn down. And for the first time ever in the Super Bowl, it really felt like Bill Belichick and his staff got outcoached.
What a difference a year makes.
Sean McVay wasn’t able to take anything Doug Pederson did last year and translate it to his offense. Belichick schooled the young hotshot. It’s true that Jared Goff played one of the worst games of his young career, but the Patriots had the perfect game plan for Los Angeles.
As a team who uses play action as the baseline for their offense, the Rams needed to get their running game going to replicate the success Goff had in New Orleans. Todd Gurley finished the game with 35 yards on 10 carries, and C.J. Anderson had 22 yards on seven. Gurley, the focal point of the offense all season, spent more than a quarter of the game time on the sideline at one point in the first half.
New England’s perimeter defenders basically nullified the much-vaunted jet sweeps the Rams use to stretch the defense, with just one Robert Woods play going for five yards.
Just like he did against the seven-cornerback defense of the Chargers and Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, Belichick took away the most important part of the game plan for the Rams in Gurley.
He cut them at the throat, and there was no response from McVay.
Belichick pushed his chips to the center of the table on the fact that Goff wasn’t capable of doing what he did to the Saints again. There were throws available for Goff throughout the night, but just flat out missed them. He didn’t cross over 100 passing yards until the fourth quarter.
Compare that to last year where four different Eagles caught a touchdown pass and Nick Foles was able to get his rhythm going with 100 yards worth of short passes to his running back Corey Clement, and it was night and day.
And the biggest difference between last season’s Super Bowl and this one besides what Belichick was able to produce came between the lines.
The Patriots shriveled on defense in the fourth quarter with the lead last year. They had a 33-32 edge when Philadelphia got the ball back with nine minutes left, and they allowed Foles to go on a 14-play, 75-yard, Lombardi Trophy-winning march to glory.
A year later they found themselves on the field in the fourth quarter with the game tied 3-3, needing to stand up again. They yielded only 23-yards on a nine-play drive to start the quarter; giving Brady the good field position he needed to break open the game with the night’s only touchdown drive.
And then Stephon Gilmore made the play of the night by intercepting Jared Goff inside the five; reaching up and making the play nobody on his defense could last year.
The Eagles had four possessions in the second half of Super Bowl LII, and scored on all of them. The Rams had six possessions in the second half of Super Bowl LIII, and scored on one of them.
That’s how a 41-33 loss transforms into a 13-3 win, and how an average performance from Brady becomes the latest chapter in his legend.
Last season in the Super Bowl, the greatest quarterback in NFL history played one of the best games of his career, and it still wasn’t enough.
This year was a total 180. Including the result.