Welcome to Season 7, Episode 20 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-yet-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup.
ATLANTA — We’ve safely arrived at the point in the two-week stretch between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl where there’s not much more to be said, not that it stops anyone from trying to say it.
It’s logistically impossible, but the ideal break between the conference finals and the Super Bowl would be about 10 days. These last couple of days end up being about that point you made last week, and that point you made again a few days ago, and wondering if you can avoid making that point again before opening kickoff finally gets here.
That’s my winding way of saying the Super Bowl makes even attempts at the unconventional pretty conventional.
We have the truths and the story lines down about this game, don’t we?
Sean McVay is one of the brightest offensive coaches to come along in years. Bill Belichick is the brightest coach, period, no context or qualifiers needed. Tom Brady seems to be cherishing the moment more than ever in his quest for that first ring on a second hand. Jared Goff played great against the Saints and looks at Brady like a 14-year-old meeting that poster on his wall in real life.
It’s all familiar by now. The only mystery that remains is how it will go beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, and the suspense makes all of this prolonged buildup worth it. The Rams are dynamic. The Patriots are indefatigable. Can’t wait to find out what happens when they collide.
Kick it off Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started . . .
Three players I’ll be watching other than Tom Brady
■ Aaron Donald: Speaking of obvious observations that are impossible to avoid, we will indeed be paying attention to the ferocious Rams interior lineman who won Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 with 11 sacks, then followed that up with a ridiculous 20.5 sacks this season.
He has been in the league five years (how the heck did he fall to 14th in the 2014 draft?) and has already accumulated 59 sacks — more than Richard Seymour (39.5) and Vince Wilfork (16) had combined in their Patriots careers.
The Patriots interior line has been superb this postseason — Brady has not been sacked in 90 passing attempts — and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason allowed just three sacks between them this season.
But Donald, along with sidekick Ndamukong Suh, is an entirely different challenge. It’s not hyperbole to suggest the winner of the Rams defensive line/Patriots offensive line showdown will be joyously passing around the Lombardi Trophy.
■ Jared Goff: Four unrelated and possibly irrelevant thoughts on the Rams’ third-year quarterback:
1. He doesn’t look as much like Ryan Gosling as you claim. He just doesn’t.
2. His father, Jerry, was a catcher with the Expos from 1990-92. Three years later, clearly never having solved how to replace Goff and his .639 OPS as an Expo, Montreal drafted Junipero Serra (San Mateo, Calif.) catcher Tom Brady in the 18th round. He chose to do something else with his life.
3. If Belichick and Brian Flores concoct a way to shut down Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, I don’t think Goff, who sometimes seems a split-second slow on his decisions, will beat them. He’s going to hit Stephon Gilmore in the numbers at least once.
4. He still does not look like Ryan Gosling. Stop it. Stop it now.
■ James White: Among all of Brady’s reliable and trusty accomplices in all the big-game victories through the years, White has to rank near the top now, doesn’t he? I think I’d put Julian Edelman in the top spot as Most Reliable. Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Deion Branch would be in the argument for the No. 2 spot . . . but I’m going with White.
His performance in Super Bowl LI (20 points, winning touchdown in overtime, etc.) is evidence enough. He had 15 catches in this year’s divisional-round against the Chargers, and while he had just 10 touches against the Chiefs, he made them count, especially on the tone-setting opening drive.
The Patriots made a mistake by getting White the ball just nine times in last year’s Super Bowl against the Eagles. Bet he doubles that Sunday and produces to great effect.
Grievance of the week
You mean besides Roger Goodell, and his inability to be forthright and authentic about anything that matters; his phony, practiced, corporate Ken Doll I-lift-bro image; his pathetic, transparent habit of planting a Play 60 kid to ask a press conference question when the real ones start to cause sweat on his very serious brow; his duplicitousness, his dishonesty (I’ll believe he’ll talk to real saints before I believe he talked to the Saints); his pandering, and his chronic prominent presence in the lives of fans who just want to enjoy the game? Besides that?
Hmmm. Well, there’s this curious detail: John Parry, who is the head official Sunday, has a rather interesting track record when it comes to both teams. The Rams are 7-0 in games he has officiated, with two of the wins coming this year. And the Patriots? They are a mere 9-5 in games officiated by Parry through the years, including the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
Parry was the lead zebra this season during the 17-10 loss to the Steelers in Week 15 when the Patriots were called for a season-high 14 penalties.
I’m not a big conspiracy guy and really do not like yowling about the officials. But that is a peculiar track record. And not much seems a coincidence in Goodell’s NFL, especially if it looks shady.
Prediction, or here’s how they’ll do it.
When a football team has been to the Super Bowl nine times in a generation, there’s a sense that you’ve seen it all, even if that is never truly the case in sports. But this game, which will be played on the 17th anniversary of the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, will be filled with elements of the familiar.
The Patriots will take an early lead, as they did against the Rams way back when, with the defense capitalizing on a mistake by Goff, just as Ty Law did against Kurt Warner then.
The Rams will unveil the unexpected from their bag of tricks, just as the Eagles did last year, and make a tight and tense game of it through the middle quarters.
The Patriots will take a lead in the fourth quarter, just as they did against the Eagles 14 years ago, but the Rams will fight back, just as the Eagles did then.
Then, the ultimate flashback: Stephen Gostkowski finally has his Vinatieri moment, drilling a 48-yard field goal to win it in the final seconds. Will all of this really happen? Let’s just call it a sixth sense. Patriots 34, Rams 31.