ATLANTA -- Tom Brady led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to lift New England over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, with the 13-3 final standing as the lowest outcome in Super Bowl history. Here's what we learned as the Patriots tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever Lombardi Trophies (six):
- With apologies to connoisseurs of prodigious punting displays, nobody tunes into the biggest stage in American sports to watch defensive coordinators locked in a battle of gridiron chess for three hours. Both quarterbacks struggled from the outset, with Tom Brady's perennial first-quarter Super Bowl woes growing infectious. The Rams were shut out at halftime for the first time in the Sean McVay era. The six points combined were the fewest after three quarters in Super Bowl history.
Pining for points with just under 10 minutes remaining, a crowd heavily slanted toward the Patriots began a "Brady, Brady, Brady" chant as its hero took the field at the 31-yard line. The greatest quarterback of all-time proceeded to unfurl his two best throws of the night, dialing up a Canton connection with Rob Gronkowski for gorgeous plays of 18 and 29 yards. The latter of the two gems put New England on the doorstep of the end zone, giving Sony Michel an easy scoring opportunity and the go-ahead touchdown. The Rams were driving for the answer when Stephon Gilmore stepped in front of Brandin Cooks near the right pylon to intercept the potential tying score.
"You know it was an unbelievable year," Brady told CBS after the game. "We just fought through it more so than anything. It's unbelievable to win this game. They played so well, the Rams' defense they played their butts off. What a great defense, they had a great plan. They made it tough on every play. We just kept fighting and finally got a touchdown. The [Patriots] defense played the best game of the year."
- Awarded Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player honors, slot receiver Julian Edelman is starting to inspire Hall of Fame discussions himself. A chain-moving machine, Edelman bedeviled Wade Phillips' otherwise impressive defense with eight first downs en route to 141 yards on 10 receptions. For the first 50 minutes of game time, he was the only weapon firing on either offense. It's a credit not only to his mind meld with Brady on option routes, but also to his rare mix of agility, toughness and run-after-catch elusiveness. After passing Hall of Famer Michael Irvin in the second quarter, Edelman now stands second only to San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice with 1,412 receiving yards in the postseason. Gronkowski, meanwhile, ranks first among tight ends in postseason receptions (81), yards (1,163) and touchdowns (12).
Brady raved about Edelman's performance after the game. "He just played the best game he has all year," Brady said. "He's a fighter, man, that kid. I'm just so proud of him. He's been an incredible player for this team in the playoffs and he just cemented himself, again, in the history of the NFL for what his accomplishments are."
- Miami Dolphins faithful must be excited at the prospect of stealing linebackers coach Brian Flores away from the AFC East end boss. Teaming with defensive mastermind Bill Belichick, Flores put on a game-planning and play-calling clinic in the postseason, confusing opposing passers with line stunts, timely blitzes and an interchangeable cadre of pass rushers. The Patriots are the first team since the iconic 1985 Chicago Bears to hold their opponents to a total of seven points or fewer in the first halves of three consecutive playoff games.
- A juggernaut for three months, the Rams offense has been out of sync since star running back Todd Gurley and slot receiver Cooper Kupp suffered late-season knee injuries. While Kupp was lost for the remainder of the postseason run, Gurley returned as a shadow of his former self. Coach Sean McVay insisted not only that Gurley was perfectly healthy, but also that he was poised for a workhorse role in the Super Bowl. Instead, the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year and 2018 MVP candidate touched the ball just 11 times for 34 inefficient yards. We know Gurley is a legitimate difference-maker when he's in peak form. We haven't seen that form since early December.
After the game, McVay shouldered the blame and doubled down on Gurley's status. "I just never enabled us to get into a rhythm offensively," McVay explained. "You know we didn't have any really third down conversions really the whole first half. They did a good job, and it seemed that anytime we got a little bit of a positive play then we'd end up having a penalty or move ourselves back. So, I think a lot of it is a result of some of the things they did but then also the play selection. I was not pleased at all with my feel for the flow of the game and kind of making some adjustments as the game unfolded and with giving ourselves a chance at some success and put some points on the board. Credit to them, they did a good job, and I certainly didn't do enough for us. But, Todd is healthy."
- The Rams became the sixth team without a third-down conversion in the first half of a Super Bowl. All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker had a season-high in attempts a few minutes into the third quarter and finished with 417 yards on nine punts. For comparison's sake, Jared Goff passed for just 229 yards in one of the least effective quarterback performances the Super Bowl has seen. One late third-quarter sequence encapsulated his troubles reading the field and dealing with defensive pressure. Cooks flashed wide open in the back of the end zone, but Goff didn't see him until cornerback Jason McCourty closed in to salvage the coverage bust and prevent the touchdown. Two plays later, Goff held the ball too long, taking a third-down sack that pushed Greg Zuerlein's field-goal attempt to 53 yards rather than 44. Goff's play down the stretch this season was just spotty enough to leave a bad aftertaste in an otherwise promising showing.
- Hall of Famer Terrell Davis is the only player ever to rush for more touchdowns in a single postseason than Sony Michel. The Patriots rookie plunged in from two yards out in the middle of the fourth quarter to give him six trips to pay dirt in three playoff games. Michel and Rex Burkhead came up big later in the quarter, each breaking off 26-yard gains to drain the clock and prevent a Rams comeback. Super Bowl LI hero James White, on the other hand, was a non-factor with one catch on four targets. Phillips' defense did a commendable job of chipping him at the line of scrimmage, eliminating one of the top pass-catching backs in the league.
- Gronkowski continues to stiff-arm retirement speculation, reserving the right to reflect on the decision over the coming weeks. Finishing his 13th NFL season in disappointment, RamsPro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth took a similar stance, telling reporters he won't know until he speaks with McVay and Rams ownership to figure it out. Whitworth, 37, did allow that he still loves the game and feels great after a long season.
- With their latest accomplishment, Belichick and Brady can now boast two more Super Bowl rings than any coach/quarterback duo in history. Their 30 playoff wins are 16 more than any other tandem. Belichick has tied early NFL legends George Halas and Curly Lambeau for the most championships (six) by a head coach. The oldest Super Bowl winner at the game's most glaringly important position, Brady has thrown for 3,840 more yards and 28 more touchdowns than any other postseason quarterback.
After hoisting yet another Lombardi Trophy, owner Robert Kraft highlighted the importance of Belichick and Brady to the NFL's reigning dynasty. "Patriots fans," Kraft declared, "this is your sixth championship in the last 18 years; truly an unprecedented accomplishment, really managed by exceptional players and coaches to whom all of us are forever grateful. But there is one constant throughout this whole 18 years, two men who are the best at whatever has been done in the history of the NFL: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And through their hard work and great leadership, I am honored to say for the sixth time, we are all Patriots and once again the Patriots are world champions."