By Pete Zamplas- New England with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick take on the upstart Los Angeles Rams Sunday in Super Bowl LIII (53).
By winning its sixth Super Bowl, owner Bob Kraft’s New England (5-5 in SBs) would tie the Steelers (6-2) and move ahead of the Cowboys (5-3) and 49ers (5-1). The Patriots have the most (11) SB appearances.
Their dynasty is in full gear. They take home three of the five latest Lombardi trophies, if they win Sunday. New England has reached half (nine of 18) of the latest Super Bowls, going 5-3 in the New Millennium with Belichick-Brady. Earlier Pats squads dropped one Super Bowl each in the Eighties and Nineties.
They are 3-1 in their road whites, which they will wear Sunday. The Rams will don throwback bright yellow and blue, as they wore when winning it all in early 2000.
Some root for New England to further ingrain its dynasty into NFL history. Others pull for the underdog — now the Rams, a year ago Philly which pulled the upset.
This Boston-Los Angeles clash is a rematch of the latest World Series that Boston won two months ago, and of the NBA’s most famed rivalry in the Eighties of Boston’s Larry Bird versus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson’s “Showtime.”
These two pro football franchises meet again 17 years after the Super Bowl upset that launched the Brady-Belichick dynasty. That combo dethroned the then-St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense, led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and N.C. State alum Torrey Holt. Brady beat them by three. He took over as QB in week three of 2001, for injured star QB Drew Bledsoe.
Patriot experience and savviness should outdo Ram youth and speed. Only four Rams have Super Bowl experience, compared to 38 of 53 Patriots. The huge experience edge is largely why this writer picks New England to triumph — not by its usual field goal, but pulling away to win by 10-14 points. The Vegas line initially zoomed from Rams by a point to Pats by (-2.5) about a field goal.
Brady, 41, is the only four-time Super Bowl MVP. He is tied with retired pass rusher Charles Haley with five SB wins. Brady has playoff records by winning the most (29) games by a QB with nine of them fourth-quarter comebacks; and by passing for 10,917 yards, 73 scores and 984 completions.
The lanky 6-four, 215-pound Brady is is still prolific. He threw for 348 yards against the Chiefs two weeks ago, after 343 to beat the Chargers. He surpassed 4,000 passing yards in half (nine of 18) of his full-time regular seasons, most recently 4,577 in ’17 then 4,355 in ‘18. His best was 5,235 in 2011. His zenith was in 2007, when he threw for a then-record 50 TDs with merely eight “picks” and 4,806 yards in an unbeaten (16-0) regular season.
In his career, Brady has thrown for 70,514 yards in the regular season to rank fourth. Drew Brees of New Orleans is first, with 74,437. Brady has thrown for the most total TDs (590), surpassing Peyton Manning’s 579 last month. Brady’s ratio is three TDs per INT. The Michigan alum’s career NFL passer rating is a sharp 97.6 in regular seasons, 90 in playoffs.
Even when Brady is off for an entire half, the Pats can rally to win a Super Bowl. That happened two years ago. Atlanta led 21-3 at halftime. But the Brady Bunch poured it on by 31-7, to win 34-28 on a TD in overtime. Ironically, the six points was the franchise’s largest SB-winning margin.
New England is adept at pulling out close Super Bowls. Its first three wins were each by three points — 20-17 over the Rams, 32-29 over Carolina on a last-second field goal, then 24-21 over Philly. The two latest Pats SB wins were also close — 28-24 over Seattle, and 34-28 over Atlanta.
In the latest regular season, the Pats (11-5) were upset four times including by two former assistant coaches and Brady seemed ailing at times. He has regained his arm strength and pinpoint accuracy to turn it up in the postseason, and led a scoring drive late in regulation then to win it in overtime against the Chiefs and quarterback phenom Patrick Mahomes.
The Rams need low-error guidance from Jared Goff, the QB to reach the Super Bowl earliest (third year) in his career. Head coach Sean McVay is a dynamic play caller on offense, going against Belichick’s defense. McVay turned 33 on Jan. 24. He is the youngest SB head coach so far, was the youngest NFL head coach ever when hired at age 30 in ‘17, and now is half Belichick’s age.
Brilliant but oft-surly Belichick has been an NFL coach since 1975, for 44 seasons, and head coach for the past 28. He has led the Pats throughout this century, reaching the Super Bowl in nine of his 19 seasons. He won a record 30 playoff games, and is 30-11. He ranks third in NFL career victories (291) and regular-season wins (261) — behind only Don Shula (347; 328) and George Halas (324; 318), and now ahead of Cowboys legend Tom Landry (270; 250).
Belichick’s win mark is .740 with N.E., and a record .685 overall including five seasons leading the so-so Browns (now Ravens). He won the AFC East in 16 of 19 seasons, and coached in the AFC title game in the last eight years and six other times. His legacy is plagued by Spygate and Deflategate scandals, and saying little to the media.
Still, he is lauded as likely the best NFL coach ever. Vince Lombardi won five of six NFL title games for Green Bay in a eight-year span (‘60-67) in the Sixties, closing with blowouts in the first two SBs. Bears’ owner-coach Halas also won five NFL titles spanning ’33 to 63, but had 40 years to do so. Chuck Noll was the most efficient. His Steelers won four SBs in six years to close the Seventies. San Fran’s Bill Walsh (3-0) is also unbeaten in the big game. Joe Gibbs won three SBs with different Redskin QBs, but lost one. Jimmy Johnson with Dallas is among six coaches 2-0 in SBs, and joined Lombardi in winning two in a row.
NASCAR team owner Gibbs’ 17-7 NFL playoff mark is behind only Lombardi’s 9-1. Belichick is next at 30-11. Noll was 16-8, Bill Walsh 10-4 then George Seifert 10-5 leading the 49ers, Bill Parcells and Marv Levy each 11-8, Landry 20-16, Mike Holmgren 13-11, Shula 19-17, Paul Brown 9-8, Bud Grant 10-12, and Andy Reid 12-14 after losing to Belichick on Jan. 20.
Best of all is how crafty, secretive Belichick notoriously alters defensive schemes to neutralize a foe’s stars. The Pats will blitz Goff. When the Pats upset the Rams 17 years ago, they were sparked by Ty Law’s “pick six.”
Overlooked by many pundits is how each side has a star Georgia Bulldog runner. Ram Todd Gurley, 24, is likely the best NFL runner around. He ran for over 1,250 yards this year and last, had a career-best 17 rushing TDs in ’18, and catches about 60 throws per year. But he looked slowed by a nagging knee injury lately, had merely four carries in the NFC title game when he often tried to loosen up on the sideline stationary bike. Gurley (6-1, 224) has had an extra week to heal. His backup, burly (5-8, 225) C.J. Anderson, looks rejuvenated after the Panthers cut him two months ago but did little in the last game.
The Pats’ own Bulldog, swift rookie runner Sony Michel (5-11, 215), ran for 931 yards then 129 then 113 yards in playoffs. His running compliments Brady’s passing to slot receiver Julian Edelman, strong tight end Rob Gronkowski, and back James White.
Look for quick passes, so Brady escapes a pass rush that is formidable. To win, L.A. must routinely pressure Brady into hurried and errant throws. Brady tossed a third INT in the AFC title game, but it was wiped out by K.C.’s Dee Ford lining up offsides and the Pats pulled out the win.
Aaron Donald, 27, is hailed as the best defensive player in the game and even an MVP candidate. He led the league with 20.5 sacks, and is slimmer than before. A year ago he was the first interior lineman in 18 years to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and is a favorite to repeat. Michael Brockers is back. L.A. recently added
Ndamukong Suh at tackle, and DE-OLB Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler, at 255 pounds, will often line up against former UF Gator teammate Trent Brown, who weighs 380.
The Ram D-Line is reminiscent of its huge and fierce “Fearsome Foursome” of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy.
The Rams are 3-5 in NFL championship games, including 1-2 in SBs. They were drubbed 31-19 by another (Steelers) dynasty in early 1980. Warner and crew edged the Titans 23-16 in the only other SB in Atlanta, and with perhaps the most dramatic ending. Receiver Kevin Dyson caught a pass at the Ram four, got tackled by LB Mike Jones, reached out the ball toward the end zone as he went down but was a yard short. This was on 1/30/00, to ignite this millennium. Two years later, the Rams returned to the SB, but lost by a field goal to New England. That last visit was 19 years ago.
In the post-WWII and Korean War/Cold War eras, the Rams reached the NFL title game in five of 11 seasons, and won twice — both times at home. Cleveland Rams edged the Redskins 15-14 in 1945 with rookie Bob Waterford at quarterback. Waterford, who was married to actress Jane Russell, was the star as the franchise moved to L.A. and soon reached three title games in a row.
Those Rams were shut out 14-0 by Philly in ’49, nosed out 30-28 by the powerhouse Browns, then avenged that with a 24-17 victory over Cleveland in ’51. The Browns won the rubber match, by 38-14 in ’55. The Rams were NFL contenders in the Sixties with N.C. State’s Roman Gabriel at QB. But the Packers and Cowboys dominated.
The Rams are finally back in the SB largely due to officials not calling a penalty that was blatant late in a tie game, nor reviewing the play. Ram CB Nickell Robey-Coleman virtually assaulted N.O. receiver Tommylee Lewis, at the Ram five and well ahead of Brees’ incomplete third-down pass.
The contact clearly seemed both pass interference, and helmet-to-helmet contact — for which the league later fined Robey-Coleman. Either penalty would set up N.O. at the one on first down in the final two minutes, for a likely TD instead of settling for a go-ahead field goal as happened.
The Rams tied it with a field goal, but if down seven would instead have to score a quick TD. As it was, they won 26-23 in OT on a long 57-yard field goal.
Robey-Coleman now said the ball was tipped, giving him the right to hit the receiver. But right after the game, he admitted he took out Lewis — a typical move if the receiver otherwise will catch a pass for a score.
He is trash talking about Brady able to “sling” sharp passes far less nowadays. Look for the Pats to burn Robey-Coleman time and again, to win their sixth Super Bowl. This would enthrall Patriots fans, and many still-seething Saints followers as well.