Five reasons the Patriots won… And five reasons the Rams lost.
The Rams lost because…they were unable to adjust on offense.
The Rams dependence on play action to freeze defenses had been exposed only once all season long. But Bill Belichick isn’t one to miss such things. In week fourteen, the Bears utterly stifled the Rams top-ranked rushing attack, and simply dared Jared Goff to throw into their top rated secondary. They held Los Angeles to six points. The Patriots did exactly the same thing but did it even better. Once it became clear that Todd Gurley was not going to be a major factor, the Rams needed a boost from somewhere else, but couldn’t find a spark. The Rams punted on their first eight drives. It wasn’t the sleek sportscar offense that neutral fans were expecting. Sean McVay could have and should have seen this coming, but was too stubborn to abandon the scheme that he believed in. Big mistake. You don’t beat the Patriots with your primary offensive weapon, and you don’t beat them without adjustments.
The Patriots won because…Julian Edelman is a tough man to cover in the middle.
When New England needed to move the chains, they moved them, keeping Goff and company on the sidelines and wearing down the Rams defensive unit. Edelman was nigh on unstoppable yet again, catching ten passes for 141 yards on only twelve targets. Edelman recorded his sixth postseason game with over 100 yards receiving. Only one receiver has more, can anyone guess who? Yup, Jerry Rice. The Rams were forced to shadow the shifty slot receiver with linebackers on a large number of plays. Teams can sometimes get away with this type of coverage on Edelman in the regular season, assuming (correctly) that the Patriots don’t want Edelman taking many brutal hits from LBs in the flat. But in the playoffs, all bets are off. Edelman’s primary skill is creating space in small windows. He did that with ease throughout the game, giving Brady an easy (and fast) way to get rid of the ball before the Rams pass rushers could sack him.
The Patriots won because…They ran the ball.
Plain and simple. The Patriots ability to keep the chains moving on the ground prevented the Rams pass rushers from doing what they do. The Rams vaunted pass rush couldn’t get to Brady, in part because of some flat-out spectacular offensive line work, but mostly because Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead kept them honest. The two combined for 137 yards on the ground, with both averaging over five yards per carry. The ability to run the ball changes so much over the course of a game, and in the fourth quarter, the Rams were simply exhausted.
The Rams lost because…New England fans flooded the stands.
Early reports from OUTSIDE the stadium took note of the fact that the Rams didn’t have the fan edge that they thought they would. As the crowd filtered in, it became obvious that despite much of the country feeling butt-hurt by New England continuing to be the class of the league, grumpy Falcons fans don’t suddenly become Rams fans and buy Super Bowl tickets. Soon, unverified rumors and reports swirled that the Rams players were being affected by the hostile crowd…before kickoff. New England was chosen to be the “visiting team” by the league, but when push came to shove, they had homefield advantage.
The Patriots won because… they optimize players with no ego.
Sure, we can point out that the four-time Super Bowl MVP didn’t throw for a touchdown on Sunday. He doesn’t care. Brady only counts wins and rings. Statistics are about as important to him as the opinions of football writers. Which is to say not at all. But to dive in a little more. James White, the driving force in the Patriots last two Super Bowl offenses, was all but left out on Sunday. He operated as a diversion in the flat and on play action, catching only one pass for five yards and rushing twice for four yards. Why? Because the Rams were going to be looking for White coming out of the backfield. So, Josh McDaniels drew up the playbook in the other direction, content to win the game rather than be predictable. It worked. You think James White was fuming while dancing on a duck boat Tuesday morning in Boston? Nope.
The Rams lost because…Aaron Donald and company were stifled
One sack by John Franklin. That’s it. Sure, there were a few QB hits and some collapsed pockets. But without the shock and awe of Aaron Donald actually flattening Tom Brady, there wasn’t enough energy in the Rams defense, and it showed. They got pushed around by a well- drilled Patriots O-line that simply won enough of the matchups to keep Brady relatively safe. At the end of the day, this was the Rams biggest advantage talent-wise, but they got out schemed and out-played. With Brady only being sacked once and Goff getting battered four times, the Rams lost one of their primary advantages.
The Patriots won because…Stephon Gilmore was a wise investment.
At the time, some Patriot fans were wondering why New England was willing to pay for Gilmore and let Malcolm Butler go. Sunday’s game was the answer. As predicted, late in the game, Goff was forced to throw at Gilmore. The lazy pass never stood a chance. Gilmore ended the day with three passes defended, five tackles and the interception, plus a forced fumble. He’s seldom mentioned among the league’s top corners, but he probably should be. He’s a lock- down defender that can be deployed in any number of schemes to good effect.
The Rams lost because…Todd Gurley wasn’t right.
I know that the narrative out of Los Angeles is that Todd Gurley was physically healthy through the playoffs, and that his lack of production and touches was just a strategic decision by Sean McVay. I don’t buy it. Gurley sat out weeks sixteen and seventeen of the regular season after being held below fifty yards rushing on back to back weeks against the Bears and Eagles (both Rams losses). He then had a solid game against Dallas in the divisional round, before accounting for just thirteen and nine yards from scrimmage in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl. This from a guy who averaged well over 100 YPG from scrimmage combined. I refuse to believe that he was fully-functional. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league, and while C.J. Anderson was a great addition to the Rams, there’s no reason he should be taking reps away from a potential MVP candidate if injury isn’t a factor. I expect he’ll be back to full strength next season, but against these Patriots, you can’t have your most explosive player touching the ball only eleven times. No matter what the reason.
The Patriots won because…they produced the greatest defensive game in Super Bowl history.
All of the lowest-scoring championship games in history, prior to Sunday, were all before Super Bowl X. This defensive showdown was a throwback, big time. So much for offense being the most important new trend. The Rams averaged 421 YPG and almost 33 points per game this season. In fact, only the Bears were able to keep the Rams below twenty points all season long. The Patriots absolutely stifled the Rams, holding them to only 260 total yards, with 62 on the ground. They could only muster a field goal all game long. Scoring thirty points less than their season average has got to sting an offensive guru like Sean McVay. Let’s give credit where credit is due, the Rams defense held Tom Brady and company to thirteen points. Doing that, you’d expect it to be enough. It simply wasn’t. Gurley, healthy or not, wasn’t able to move the chains. C.J. Anderson amounted for only 22 yards. Goff was sacked four times and laid out twelve times, leading to a slew of errant passes and throw-aways. The Rams could only muster fourteen first downs all game and were 3-13 on third down. You simply can’t beat a good team that way, much less the greatest coach-QB combo that the NFL has ever seen.
Image Source: CBS Sports