For those who were wondering, before Super Bowl 53 on Sunday night, Tom Brady had led the Patriots to 13 points twice his 39 previous postseason games. New England lost both games — 27-13 in Denver in the 2005 postseason, and 28-13 to the Ravens in the AFC title game after the 2012 season. In their three straight Super Bowl trips, before Sunday, the Patriots averaged 34.3 points a game, busting 30 or more in seven of those eight games.
In Brady's 40th postseason game, against the Rams, the quarterback led the Patriots to 13 points. They were shut out in the first quarter and had three points at halftime. They didn't score a touchdown, their only one, until seven minutes left in the game.
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The Rams' defense did all of that to Brady in his ninth Super Bowl appearance. They kept the Patriots out of the end zone over and over, took the ball away from the QB, limited the damage by Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, held Rob Gronkowski in check until the late touchdown drive, held them to 3-of-12 in third-down conversions and halted them on a critical fourth down late in the first half.
They even stonewalled New England one final time, surrendering a field goal that kept the Patriots from putting it away with a touchdown or running out the clock, and giving the offense the ball back for one more chance.
That offense supported them with the fewest points in Super Bowl history.
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The Rams constructed this defense last offseason, in an all-in push to win now: Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and a monster contract for Aaron Donald. The unit got ridiculed often, after it gave up 51 points to the Chiefs and still won, after the Saints burned Peters and then talked about it in their regular-season meeting. When LA made its run to the Super Bowl — including through New Orleans — its defense made the right play at the right time.
The Rams did that all night in Atlanta, above and beyond any time they were called upon to do it all season. It didn't matter.
The last score anyone expected from this Super Bowl was 13-3, and the last sight anyone expected to see was Brady celebrating after generating one touchdown, the same number of times he was intercepted and was sacked. It was the "3" produced by Jared Goff and the Rams' offense that negated it all.
"It kills, it kills," Goff told media afterward. "It hurts me so much, just knowing how well our defense played, against that team, against Tom — to play that well defensively and us not hold up our end of the bargain. It's our job to score points, and we didn't do it."
It wasn't the fault of the defense that gave up 24.0 points a game in the regular season, just 20th in the league, and 358.5 yards a game, 14th overall. The offense ranked second in points and second in yards. Hold the other side to 13 points, and with that offense, the parade is sure to be in LA this week instead of Boston.
Despite everything Edelman did, despite Gronkowski's late heroics and the punch their running game packed at certain times, the Patriots were kept out of the end zone until the end. Their 407 total yards make the all-time list of misleading Super Bowl stats: 141 of those yards came on the touchdown drive and the ensuing field-goal drive in the final minutes … following the soul-crushing interception by Goff inside the five, when a touchdown would have tied the game or given the Rams the lead.
With the Rams defense’s reputation as underachievers all season, even when they rose to the occasion at the right time, it wasn't reasonable to have faith that they'd stop Brady enough to beat him.
But when the Patriots finally went on their one and only potent drive, it meant the difference between winning and losing. Had their offensive counterparts not been equally dominated by the Patriots defense or shot themselves in the foot, the drive would not have carried the same consequences.
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The Rams' Wade Phillips-led defense did everything that could have been asked of it, and more. If it couldn't hold up that one last time, it shouldn't have had such dire consequences. But when the Rams had the ball, Goff was rendered so inept, the receivers so invisible and Todd Gurley so mysteriously absent, every trip onto the field for the defense carried immense weight.
They barely buckled. It was just catastrophic when they did.