Are Sean McVay and Jared Goff the new Bill Belichick and Tom Brady?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A franchise is remade by a coaching prodigy who comes from a notable football family and was seemingly born to wield a whistle and maximize talent. That coach forms a winning partnership with a humble, handsome, cool-under-pressure franchise quarterback who grew up in the Bay Area and had to dispel doubts about his NFL ability.
It’s the Foxborough football gospel, the story of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It’s also a Hollywood remake, starring Sean McVay and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams boast the league’s newest and youngest pro football power couple in 33-year-old head coach McVay and 24-year-old quarterback Goff, both Super Bowl neophytes. The Patriots represent the gold standard of coach-quarterback combinations with Belichick and Brady, who have eight previous Super Bowl appearances and five championships attached to their blessed and enduring union. It’s the Old Guard vs. the Young Guns. It’s Leaders of the New School vs. the Original Gridiron Gangsters. It’s Icons vs. Wunderkinds.
The coach-quarterback advantage has been the single biggest factor in the Patriots’ defying the NFL’s planned parity for nearly two decades. The names around them change, the winning doesn’t. This is not a news flash. Belichick and Brady aren’t infallible, but they’re both legends in their fields, the only coach and quarterback to win five Lombardi Trophies. Now, they have to beat back the latest challengers to their throne to hoist for a sixth time the 7 pounds of sterling silver that serves as the NFL’s Holy Grail.
On paper, Belichick-Brady vs. McVay-Goff in a Rams Super Bowl rematch of sorts is a mismatch. Belichick and Brady are participating in their third straight Super Bowl. McVay and Goff are in their second season together.
But if anyone understands you can’t be presumptuous and automatically favor decorated, established football figures in Super Bowls, it would be Brady and Belichick.
The dynastic duo is back where they started — at a Super Bowl trying to slow down an explosive Rams offense orchestrated by an offensive guru that features a dynamic running back, talented wide receivers, and a quick-trigger quarterback people initially underestimated. But this time they’re the revered tandem.
In a bit of temporal symmetry, Belichick and Brady will face McVay and Goff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta next Sunday exactly 17 years to the day that they faced “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3, 2002, in New Orleans, pulling off an epic upset of coach Mike Martz and quarterback Kurt Warner that gave rise to arguably the greatest sustained run of success in NFL history.
Can the Rams’ Belichick and Brady knockoffs knock off the real thing? I wouldn’t bet on it. However, the Patriots shouldn’t have lost to a rookie coach, Doug Pederson, and a backup quarterback, Nick Foles, in last year’s Super Bowl, either. So . . .
“It’s a great challenge for our football team because these guys are the epitome of really the standard, the consistency at which you operate,” said McVay. “I think Coach Belichick . . . his success speaks for itself. I’m a fan of coaching. I have so much respect for the Patriots organization, the way they operate, the way that he consistently leads, puts his players in positions to really have success. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to compete against them.”
The grandson of former San Francisco 49ers general manager John McVay, who won five Super Bowls, McVay is the league’s it boy, the Theo Epstein of NFL coaches. Everyone is looking for a McVay clone, a precocious, telegenic, offensive mastermind. If you parked next to him once, an NFL team wants to interview you for its head coaching job. McVay doesn’t grunt, grumble, or snort. He’s more like Ryan Seacrest with serious coaching chops, an owner’s dream.
A coaching savant, McVay was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history when the Rams hired him in January of 2017, 12 days shy of his 31st birthday. He became the youngest coach ever to win the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award last season. He’s the youngest head coach to ever lead his team to a Super Bowl. McVay is so youthful that he played college football against Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
McVay is the most celebrated LA sports guru coach since Phil Jackson. He’s not running the triangle offense, but he has been able to reshape the Rams, going 26-9 overall. In 2016, the Rams were last in the NFL in scoring offense. They’ve been the highest-scoring team in the league over the last two regular seasons, averaging 31.4 points per game.
“I have a ton of respect for Sean. I think he’s done a great job in the two years he’s been with the Rams,” said Belichick. “His teams have performed at an extremely high level. They’re very consistent. They’re well-coached. He has a great scheme. The players execute it on a consistent basis at a very high level.”
Perhaps McVay’s crowning achievement is enabling Goff to live up to his pedigree as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft after a rough rookie season. Instead of a QB1 bust, Goff has blossomed into a Pro Bowler. This season, he tossed a career-high 32 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. He finished top four in the league in passing yards (4,688) and yards per attempt (8.4), and eighth in quarterback rating (101.1).
There is a 17-year age gap between Goff and the 41-year-old Brady, the largest in Super Bowl history, and a greater gap in track record. But Goff has common ground with Brady, literally. He’s from Novato, Calif., north of San Francisco. Brady hails from San Mateo, Calif., south of San Francisco.
Patriots tight end Stephen Anderson was a college teammate of Goff’s at Cal and hangs out with him in the offseason. Anderson texted Goff after the Patriots’ overtime victory in the AFC title game last Sunday. Anderson said his college quarterback’s clutch performance to rally the Rams to win the NFC title game in overtime wasn’t unexpected.
“I did watch it. I’m not surprised,” said Anderson.
“I’ve fought, battled, trained, gave blood, sweat, and tears with Jared. I’m not surprised that he’s having this success at all. The throws he made, he probably threw a thousand times, knowing him. So, I’m not surprised in his success.”
While Goff comes off as dull and vanilla, Anderson vouched for his charisma, calling him a great leader. He said Goff was beloved by his teammates at Cal. Offensive players would go to Goff’s house after games.
Anderson didn’t want to wade too much into comparisons between his old quarterback and his current one. But he said that like Brady, Goff is “fine-detailed” in his approach and puts an emphasis on connecting with teammates.
“Tom and Jared both are just one of the guys,” said Anderson.
Belichick might have socks older than McVay. Brady might own playlists that predate Goff’s existence, but none of that matters on Super Bowl Sunday. Résumé or reputation won’t dictate the result. It’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about what you do.
If anyone knows that reality in a Super Bowl involving the Rams, it’s Belichick and Brady.