By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — Bill Belichick has crafted up a fine defensive game plan or two throughout his Hall of Fame career. He has another to add to the mix.
The Patriots’ defense was downright dominant throughout Super Bowl LIII, keeping the potent Los Angeles Rams offense out of the end zone in a surprisingly defensive 13-3 victory for New England. L.A. came into the game the No. 2-ranked offense in all of football, and all they could manage was a measly field goal on the game’s biggest stage.
“In our biggest moments when we had to play our best football and compete our hardest, they did it,” Belichick said of his players after the victory. “Players went out there and competed against a great football team.”
Tom Brady said the defense was “unbelievable.” That is an understatement.
Belichick and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores (now set to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins) held the Rams to just 260 total yards, making Sean McVay’s incredible offense look incredibly inept. The Rams had just 14 first downs on the evening, going an abysmal 3-for-13 on third downs. Five of their 12 drives lasted just three plays before the Rams were forced to punt away. L.A.’s longest drive of the night was 55 yards; their final drive — against what was basically a prevent defense — that ended with a missed field goal.
The Patriots took the run away from L.A. and put the ball in the hands of quarterback Jared Goff, whom they confused throughout the game with a mix of man and zone coverages. They rushed him without blitzing, logging four sacks while hitting Goff 12 total times. The 24-year-old QB was never able to get comfortable, and finished with just 224 passing yards and a key interception in the fourth quarter.
Dont’a Hightower sacked Goff twice, while Kyle Van Noy and Jonathan Jones each logged a sack on Sunday. Hightower and Van Noy led the harassment barrage against Goff, both credited with a trio of QB hits.
The Rams offense assaulted the record books during the regular season, but looked like lost puppies on Sunday. They were forced to punt on nine of their first 10 possessions, with the lone exception ending with a 53-yard field goal. L.A.’s final two possessions ended with an interception and a missed field goal, a truly fruitless effort from an offense that averaged 32.9 points per game during the regular season.
“He did a great job. There is really no other way to put it. The Patriots coaches did an outstanding job putting their guys in positions and then the players did a great job executing. They definitely changed it up with what they had done over the past couple of weeks,” McVay said. “They did a great job, and it is something that I’m disappointed that I didn’t do a better job of adjusting in the framework of the game. That is one of the things that makes them great.”
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore came down with the clutch interception for New England, ending Los Angeles’ biggest threat of the night. With the ball at the New England 27, the Rams were looking to answer the only touchdown of the game. Goff went deep to former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, but under heavy pressure from a blitzing Duron Harmon, Goff left his throw well short. Gilmore made the easy pick at the New England 4-yard line with 4:17 left in the contest.
The Patriots drove down the field on their ensuing possession and kicked a game-sealing field goal.
Gilmore capped off a spectacular All-Pro season with a spectacular performance on Sunday. Though Cooks had eight catches for 120 yards, the only Rams player to do much of anything, he never became the game-changer in the passing game with Gilmore blanketing him for much of the night.
But Gilmore wasn’t alone in the New England secondary. Fellow corner Jason McCourty also made a game-changing play in the third quarter, keeping Cooks from hauling in what should have been a touchdown. Cooks was able to lose Gilmore and find himself wide open in the end zone, when McCourty raced from out of nowhere to break up the pass. Not too shabby for a veteran who hadn’t played in a playoff game until three weeks ago. The break-up forced the Rams to settle for a game-tying field goal, a gigantic missed opportunity for L.A. to score the game’s first touchdown.
While the Patriots-Rams showdown was expected to be an offensive shootout, and McVay’s brilliant offensive mind has been the talk of the league all season, Super Bowl LIII goes into the record books as the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. It turned into a battle of defenses (and special teams), which has to make Belichick appreciate his sixth Lombardi trophy even more. Given all the uncertainty that surrounded the Patriots heading into the season and throughout the 2018 campaign, this will go down as one of the finest — if not the finest — coaching jobs of Belichick’s career.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, a notorious partier, said after the game that Belichick, not known for his partying, was ready to have some fun. If he wants to go a little Gronk, the Patriots head coach has certainly earned it after devising yet another truly dominating defensive game plan in yet another Super Bowl.