That’s it, another NFL season in the books. This was a season not without its fair share of controversy as Steelers star Le’Veon Bell refused a contract to play all year, and discussion of kneeling during the national anthem continued. But all that was forgotten two weekends ago as the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots faced on in Super Bowl LIII. This was the Patriots ninth Super Bowl appearance this century while the Rams were the new fresh faces in the NFL, thought to be in a position to knock the Patriots off their thrones. Head coach Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was named Rams coach two years ago at age 30, and third year quarterback Jared Goff were leading the most potent Rams offense since Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf team of 1999-2001 that won one Super Bowl and played in another (against the Patriots) while playing in St. Louis. But ultimately it was defense that won the game and secured the Patriots their sixth Super Bowl championship, now tied with the Steelers for the most championships in NFL history.
The name of the game this NFL season was offense. The Kansas City Chiefs and Rams played one of the greatest regular season games in NFL history in a 54-51 Los Angeles win, the first game ever in which both teams scored 50+ points, and the third highest point total in history. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in his first year starting in the NFL, threw for nearly 5100 yards and 50 touchdowns, the first quarterback since Peyton Manning to reach at least 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a season. For many fans, entertainment value is at its highest in high scoring games, and teams did not disappoint this season. In a clear demonstration of the fact that offense still rules king, it was the four highest scoring offenses in the NFL this season that advanced to the conference championship games.
Even the first rounds of the playoffs followed this same vein. In the divisional round of the playoffs, both the Rams and Patriots scored at least 30 points in advancing to their respective conference championship. The Chiefs and Patriots played an instant classic in the AFC championship with the Patriots ultimately emerging with a 37-31 victory after marching down the field to start overtime. The Rams also advanced in overtime, but their victory was marred by a controversial no-call on a clear case of pass interference that likely would have given the New Orleans Saints the win and sent them to their second Super Bowl.
That set up a showdown between the evil empire of the New England Patriots, whose head coach quarterback tandem of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had won five of the eight Super Bowls they played in since 2001, and the Los Angeles Rams, the new faces of the NFL in McVay and Goff. All anybody could talk about going into the game were the offenses of both these teams. The question that many asked became how many offensive records would be set in this game?
As it turned out there were a number of records broken in the game. One of them was the longest punt in Super Bowl history (65 yards) off the leg of Rams punter Johnny Hekker. As play-by-play man Jim Nantz put it, “That’s the highlight of the game!”
Perhaps the fact that the Patriots’ opening drive ended with an interception of Tom Brady should have been a sign of things to come. The teams combined to punt eight times in the first half, which also included a missed field goal by Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski. However, he would redeem himself later in the half to give the Patriots the 3-0 lead heading into halftime, the lowest Super Bowl halftime score since 1974, and an almost unheard of scoreline in the modern NFL. Instead of the offensive fireworks that everyone expected based on both teams recent performances, it was defense that proved to be the deciding factor. The Patriots held Goff to 52 yards through the air in the first half while the Rams forced an interception and a strip sack on Brady. Neither team saw a single down in their opponent’s red zone (the final 20 yards of the field).
Even the halftime show was heavily criticized for being rather dull and lacking in excitement, much like the game’s first half. Many fans were hoping that both teams would come out of the locker rooms for the second half with new energy. The second half did bring some more action to the game, although it still began with the four consecutive punts. Finally, the Rams were able to get on the board at the 2:11 mark of the third quarter as Greg Zuerlein converted a long field goal to knot the score at three. After two more punts, the Patriots finally decided they had had enough of being held without a touchdown.
Marching down the field in only five plays, Brady completed two passes to Rob Gronkowski and one each to Rex Burkhead and Julian Edelman to take the Patriots to the Rams’ two yard line. It was time for rookie phenom Sony Michel to go to work, and he ran the ball in to give the Patriots the 10-3 lead and the first touchdown of the game. The Rams still had seven minutes on the clock, plenty of time to score, but a Stephon Gilmore interception in the red zone gave the Pats the ball back before the Rams could score. The Patriots went down the field with ease, scoring an insurance field goal, and a last minute-missed Rams field goal ultimately sealed the victory for the Patriots, their sixth Super Bowl this century. A Patriots team that at times had been counted out this season proved that it was still relevant and that the dynasty that has defined the NFL since 2001 is still alive and well. The criticisms they had faced all season, that Tom Brady was too old, that they had no offensive weapons, didn’t matter in the end. Wide receiver Julian Edelman ultimately walked away the MVP award after catching ten passes for 141 yards.
Most NFL fans have come to appreciate the offensive fireworks that most games bring, and as such, Super Bowl LIII was condemned by many as being excessively boring. With that being said, the game was a defensive chess match between two great head coaches and was just as entertaining in its own right as any shootout. Not every game can end with each team scoring 50+ points, but the beauty of football is watching two teams take the field and fight each other tooth and nail. That is what this Super Bowl was.