By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — An interesting morsel of information came out this week about the MVP voting in the Super Bowl: not one single vote for the game’s MVP was made for a defensive player. In a game where the Patriots’ defense held the No. 2 offense in the NFL to a measly three points, not one of the 16 voters thought a defensive player was worthy of the award.
That’s … kind of insane. But it’s also understandable.
The thing was, for as great as the defensive performance was, there was not one single player on the defensive side who necessarily played the type of game that’s typical of a Super Bowl MVP. For that matter, there wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice on offense, even though Julian Edelman did represent the best option. Here’s a quick look at the candidates, why they deserved consideration, and why they probably didn’t end up factoring in.
Yet another monstrous Super Bowl performance by the Patriots’ second-longest-tenured defender. He only had two tackles, but both were sacks. One came on a first down on a drive that ended up going three-and-out, and the other came on a third-and-7 at the New England 26-yard line. He recorded another QB hit, and he nearly picked off the first pass of the second half. He was immense. But two tackles won’t ever result in a Super Bowl MVP Award. When Von Miller won, he had 2.5 sacks and six tackles. When Malcolm Smith won, he had a pick-six, a fumble recovery and 10 tackles. Dexter Jackson had two interceptions. Hightower was a beast vs. the Rams, but the numbers didn’t quite show it.
Kyle Van Noy
It’d be easy to make the case that Van Noy had an even better game than Hightower. Van Noy had a sack — for a 14-yard loss on a third-and-2 latein the first half — and three quarterback hits, making life miserable for Jared Goff all night long. Still, he only had three solo tackles. Anyone watching the game could see that Van Noy was immense in pressuring Goff, but again, three tackles isn’t exactly the type of performance that’s led to Super Bowl MVP honors for a defensive player.
The guy getting the most buzz for being snubbed is the cornerback who made the back-breaking interception late in the fourth quarter. Naturally. And Gilmore was outstanding. He played lockdown defense, living up to his All-Pro status, and the only real knock on him was that he took a defensive holding penalty that ruined a third-down stop. Generally speaking, though, making a single interception at a point when your team was winning by a touchdown is not usually enough to warrant an MVP Award. Malcolm Butler made the most unbelievable interception in Super Bowl history, and he didn’t even win MVP. Just like Van Noy and Hightower, the Patriots would have been in serious trouble without Gilmore in this game. But alone, it wasn’t enough to be MVP.
If the Gilmore pick was The Play Of The Game™, then Jason McCourty’s pass breakup in the end zone was 1B. Unbelievable. But nobody’s ever won a Super Bowl MVP for a pass breakup in the third quarter, no matter how incredible it was.
So, when you really get down to it, you can understand why the defenders didn’t earn any votes. And unlike when Ray Lewis won in Super Bowl XXXV, there were a couple of offensive standouts. In addition to Julian Edelman’s 10-catch, 141-yard performance, there was Sony Michel‘s 94 yards and touchdown on 18 carries — with 47 of those yards and the touchdown coming in the fourth quarter. (That was MVP-worthy work, if you were to ask me.) Those were the two real options, and surely, the quarterback probably received a vote or two simply for being the quarterback.
But that is kind of perfect, though, isn’t it? Seventeen years prior to the exact date, Bill Belichick’s Patriots blew everyone’s mind by choosing to get introduced as a team before shutting down the Rams’ offense and winning a Super Bowl. This time around, the defense played so well together as a team that despite the dominant showing, it was impossible for one single player to stand out as the obvious MVP.
I’m sure those individuals wouldn’t have minded adding some hardware to their display cabinets in the home office, but all in all, I’m sure the Patriots are quite happy to have themselves a true team victory in the biggest game of the year.
With that being established, let’s jump into what is sure to be a heavy-duty, extra-large serving of Leftover Patriots Thoughts from their 13-3 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
–Full disclosure: I started writing up our “Julian Edelman Earns Super Bowl MVP Honors” news story in the second quarter. I mean. The fella’s a freak. That award was well-earned. Here’s a quick game log of Edelman’s receiving stats in his last 11 playoff games:
8 receptions, 74 yards, W
9 receptions, 98 yards, W
9 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD, W
10 receptions, 100 yards, W
7 receptions, 53 yards, L
8 receptions, 137 yards, W
8 receptions, 118 yards, 1 TD, W
5 receptions, 87 yards, W
9 receptions, 151 yards, W
7 receptions, 96 yards, W
10 receptions, 141 yards, W
That’s an average of eight receptions and 106 yards over 11 games, with the Patriots going 10-1 in those games. He’s also rushed for 59 yards on seven carries and returned 27 punts for an average return of 11.2 yards.
The guy has been a driver to all of this postseason success since 2014. He was overdue for an award like that.
–James Develin was immense in this game, as you would expect, but I was impressed that he survived the first play. Here’s a look at what ol’ Jimmy had to deal with on the very first snap of the game.
My goodness. I’d still be lying there. They would have had to go somewhere else to play the rest of the game. You send an unblocked Ndamukong Suh into me on the first snap? No thank you. I’m going to need to rest now.
Develin was most likely just jacked up that he helped spring a 13-yard gain. That’s one of the differences between him and me.
–An indication of how Kyle Van Noy was going to play in this Super Bowl came very early, on a second-and-8 on the Rams’ first possession. This came right after Brady threw an ugly pick on the opening drive, and the Patriots needed the D to prevent that from putting them behind — on the scoreboard, and emotionally — early. Van Noy took care of it.
Van Noy absolutely bundled an unsuspecting Josh Reynolds, who was supposed to run a route but ended up on his keister. After leveling the receiver, Van Noy picked up Goff scrambling to the defensive left side and began to pursue. Despite Goff having a full head of steam when Van Noy was in a standstill, the linebacker made up the ground and chased the quarterback to the sideline, forcing a feeble throwaway.
Watch Van Noy deck Reynolds right at the Super Bowl logo, and then chase down Goff:
That right there is a football player making a football play. The defense forced an incompletion on third down, thanks in part to Adrian Clayborn crushing Goff in the backfield …
… and thanks in part to Patrick Chung absolutely lighting up Reynolds (after a drop). Tough couple of snaps for Josh.
The Rams punted. No harm on that early pick, thanks to plays like that one.
–Everyone loved Wade Phillips going into this game. You couldn’t even get into the same zip code of the man at media night. But ahh … yeah no, wasn’t a banner night for Wade.
I’ll grant him that the Patriots only scored 13 points. The Rams get some credit for that (Brady’s inaccuracy deserves equal credit). But man, did that defense make some serious goofs in this game.
The Rams forced the Patriots into a third-and-9 on their second possession. That’s good! The Rams played Zero Humans Defense on Julian Edelman on the play. That’s bad!
That was certainly a precursor for what was to come with regard to Edelman.
Later in the first, second-and-5, Rex Burkhead, wide open in the same left flat, easy gain of eight and a free set of downs.
Very next play, Rob Gronkowski, large fellow, left uncovered in the middle of the football field.
That’s 19 free yards without even having to break a sweat.
Second quarter, third-and-1, Nickell Robey-Coleman can handle Julian Edelman in man coverage, right? Well …
On the game-winning drive, the Patriots ran the same play three straight times, first picking up 13 yards, then picking up 7 yards, and then finally picking up 29 yards on the pass to Gronkowski that set up the lone touchdown of the game.
“We ran the play like two plays before,” Gronkowski said of the game-changing play. “Kind of beat the guy, had a little leverage. [Josh] McDaniels saw it, repeated the play again. I knew it was going to come to me.”
Gronkowski knew. The Rams didn’t. Or maybe they did, but it didn’t matter.
And on that touchdown, the Rams just couldn’t match the manpower that the Patriots had on the field; New England had 2,736 pounds of men blocking on the play (Allen, Gronkowski, Brown, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, Waddle, Develin). Michel scored easily.
And — yes, there’s more — when the Patriots took over at their own 4-yard line with 4:17 left in a seven-point game, the Rams were far from out of it. All they needed was a stop, and they’d have plenty of time to try to score the game-tying touchdown. Who knows — maybe Sean McVay would have gone for two and won the thing.
Problem was, nobody told the Rams’ defense that the game wasn’t over. Those guys just laid down. In the Super Bowl!
On a second-and-9 at the 5, Sony Michel had this open up for him:
A Ram did not lay a finger on him until he was at the 27-yard line. In an obvious running situation, that’s unacceptable from a defensive standpoint.
Three plays later, Rex Burkhead likewise was not touched by a defender until he was 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; he gained 26 yards. That ended the game, more or less.
It was one of those games where yes, the point total would lead you to believe the Rams played well defensively. But looking back at the tape, they might have just gotten lucky that the Patriots had something of an off night.
–That “off night” might have had a lot to do with some odd play-calling from McDaniels and Brady. To wit:
Second-and-8, 6:22 first, ball at L.A. 31: After moving the ball 57 yards with runs and short passes, Brady throws deep out of play-action to Chris Hogan, who’s tightly covered by Marcus Peters. Incomplete. No chance. Next play, on third down, coming out of a New England timeout, McDaniels dialed up … an inside handoff to James White. Gained three yards. Led to a field goal attempt. It was no good.
Third-and-9, 11:13 second, ball at L.A. 28: This one may have been more on Brady, as he for whatever reason didn’t look to Phillip Dorsett on the in-cut:
Brady instead threw short to Gronkowski in space, hoping he’d make a play. Not only was Gronkowski stopped short, but he was walloped high and low simultaneously, leading to a hit that made it difficult for him to walk for the rest of the night. Not the best play.
Fourth-and-1, 1:16 second, ball at L.A. 32: Call me crazy, but when you’ve got a power run game functioning at full power, a fourth-and-1 attempt is a spectacular time to try to roll it out. Trying to fit a ball through traffic to a covered Gronkowski? Not as great. In my opinion.
Third-and-5, 6:47 third, ball at New England 34: Another deep ball to Hogan. Another instance of tight coverage by Peters. Another incompletion. Not sure what the Patriots saw or liked about that one the first time that made them want to try it again.
Would have been an easy pick if Hogan didn’t go into defensive back mode, too.
Overall, it just felt like a fall back to earth after a couple of outstanding, near-perfect offensive game plans against the Chargers and Chiefs. I really do feel that’s about 50 percent responsible for the lack of scoring.
–Some people watch football because they love seeing deep passes. Other folks love running backs. Some people like ooh and ahh at the kickers. But me? I’m just hear for the clotheslines.
Clothesline city. The game within the game. Got to love it.
–Underrated monster play of the game: fumble recovery by David Andrews. For some reason, Tom Brady thought it’d be a good idea to stand in the pocket for a half-hour late in the first quarter. Spoiler alert: he got hit. He didn’t even protect the ball. It was a very strange brain fart for the greatest of all time.
But it didn’t hurt too bad. Instead of turning the ball over at the New England side of the 50, the Patriots kept possession and eventually pinned the Rams at their own 6-yard line. All because Andrews was Davey on the spot.
Andrews also got to do Sony Michel’s touchdown celebration. Good to see the Georgia kids having some fun.
–Speaking of pinning them deep, hachi machi, Ryan Allen was a man possessed. His first punt went out of bounds at the 6. His third punt was downed at the 2. His fourth punt went for a negative-1-yard return. His fifth punt was downed at the 7. The Patriots punted five times; the Rams average starting field possessions on those five drives was their own 17. What a night by him and Matthew Slater.
Unfortunately, they don’t send punters to the postgame podium (no respect, I tell ya), so I had to ask the kicker about it.
“Ryan’s an unreal punter. He was ready to go,” Stephen Gostkowski said. “I could tell that he was feeling it. Any time you’re in the zone and you can get a lot of opportunities to help your team, it’s a fun feeling.”
We don’t often think of punters being “in the zone.” But Ryan Allen was IN THE ZONE.
–I’m no expert on awards, but someone somewhere needs to invent an award to give to Jason McCourty for this. I still can’t believe it happened.
Goff’s lack of recognition was bad. His ball was even worse. But still, anything short of a Mercurian gallop by McCourty, and that’s an easy six. Amazing play.
–Overall, Goff was impressively unimpressive. When the Patriots flushed him out of the pocket, he looked like Peyton Manning used to look when the Patriots’ defense did the same back in ’03 and ’04. That’s not a compliment. The sack he allowed Kyle Van Noy to make was puzzling, as Goff decided to simply drop to the ground for a 14-yard loss instead of throwing the ball away. Goff missed an open Reynolds on a third-and-5 coming out of halftime, instead opting to throw a ball into traffic. There was of course the aforementioned wobbler to Cooks.
And he committed a false start in the fourth quarter. (He is a quarterback.)
He at times looked like a little boy who lost his bicycle and hadn’t the slightest clue of how to get home in time for supper.
Prior to picking up 54 yards against a prevent defense while trailing by 10 points on the final drive, Goff was a 50 percent passer for 174 yards. It was gross.
It was so bad that McVay had no choice but to run an inside handoff to Todd Gurley on a third-and-22. It lost a down.
The Rams did some great things this year. So did Goff. Maybe McVay will live up to all of that praise thrown his way during the year. But Sunday night represented a major gut punch to a franchise that had been going in the right direction.
–The Gilmore pick was great, but I feel as though that’s been discussed quite a bit. Let’s talk about the play that immediately preceded the pick, because that was a big one.
The Rams had a first down at the New England 27, after Goff finally thew a good ball to Robert Woods for a 17-yard pickup. McVay decided it was time to take a shot at the end zone. It was a decent attempt, with Cooks in one-on-one coverage with Gilmore. Cooks might have even had a step … and he was halfway to securing the touchdown catch.
But Duron Harmon — who played just two snaps in the AFC title game — was coming over the top to help. Gilmore did hook Cooks’ left arm a bit, but not enough to get flagged, and that combined with the distraction of a safety flying over for contact was enough to lead to an incompletion.
And we know how big that was, because of what happened on the next play.
(Cooks, an amazingly talented wide receiver, should probably start looking for that pass at some point. Maybe tomorrow.)
–Unrelated to the game, but it must be mentioned that Stephon Gilmore wore the best shirt to the parade.
–Julian Edelman quite literally kicked ass and took names. There was nobody who could cover him. I put together what the political types on Twitter would call an IMPORTANT THREAD. They might even throw one of those emojis of a finger pointing down, too.
Really was an incredible night. Even after getting the MVP trophy, there are folks out there who don’t think he’s good. There are folks out there who actually lose their minds if you mention the Hall of Fame and Edelman in the same sentence.
Edelman probably won’t have to say much in defense of his own play. He has three rings — and 337 receiving yards in his last three Super Bowls — to do all the talking for him.
(He can have those GIFs for free, too. They’re pretty good, I thought.)
–I did this research before the game and didn’t end up using, so why have it go to waste? So you know how you hear about how the Patriots always have the easiest path because the AFC East stinks and yada yada yada? Let’s remove opinion from the matter and just look solely at facts. Let’s look at strength of schedule, which is the combined winning percentage of all opponents in a season. And let’s see where the Patriots ranked in terms of the six AFC playoff teams in their playoff seasons since 2002 realignment. The higher the ranking, the harder the schedule.
2012: Tied 1st
2009: Tied 2nd
So, what does that tell you? They’ve had the easiest schedule among playoff teams three times since 2003. They’ve had the hardest schedule among playoff teams three times since 2003.
They’ve ranked first through third in toughest schedule nine times since 2003; they’ve ranked fourth through six four times since 2003.
For whatever reason, even after SIX Super Bowl wins, people out there want to try to diminish the accomplishment. The argument that “they have such an easy road due to a bad division” clearly doesn’t have any actual basis in reality.
–I’ve mentioned it to this point, but Brady made a number of bad throws. I’ve heard that’s because age is catching up to him. I guess every time he has a bad game, that conclusion will be made. But he was only two weeks older than he was in Kansas City, when he was absolutely dynamite. Even Brady has off nights. It’s not always a sign that he’s done.
Also, having an “off night” when you end up leading a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl is pretty sweet. I’d like to have that kind of off night once in a while.
–This was among the funnier things I saw after the game:
Brady has 2,838 yards on 65.3 percent passing, with 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 6-3 record in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning, Brady’s only modern match, threw for 1,001 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions with a 2-2 record in his four Super Bowls.
Brady’s 18 touchdowns are far more than the 11 of Joe Montana, who ranks second. Nobody else has thrown double-digit touchdowns. Despite playing more games than any other quarterback, he’s only tied for fourth in interceptions. John Elway (eight interceptions in five games), Craig Morton (seven in two), and Jim Kelly (seven in four) have thrown more.
–I’m sure that some day, we’ll understand what the heck happened in New England football history from 2001-2020 or so. Maybe. Maybe we won’t.
And surely, it’ll end some day. We all thought it would have ended by now. Many of us thought it would have ended three or four years ago. Certainly, many more people thought last year was the official end.
But it’s still going. Even when the Patriots look mediocre during the season, they can still do enough to earn a first-round bye, and then they can go and beat the best two AFC teams in the playoffs, and then they can go out and confidently hold the No. 2 offense in the NFL to three total points in the Super Bowl, and then they can stand under the confetti showers and feel what it’s like to be champions. Again.
It won’t ever happen again, but that hardly matters. It’s happening now, and the best thing we can do is try to understand it.
It is ridiculous. It is preposterous. It is absolutely unreal.
Four Super Bowl appearances in five years. Three championships. No end in sight.