Alex Speier

How tough is it to win in the NFL when scoring just 13 points? Very

Sony Michel dives in for the only touchdown of Super Bowl LIII.
Sony Michel dives in for the only touchdown of Super Bowl LIII. david j. phillip/AP

Order the Globe’s commemorative book about the Patriots’ 2019 Super Bowl victory

There’s a reason why the Patriots earned the distinction of having the lowest point total by a winning team in the Super Bowl in NFL history: It’s really, really hard to win when scoring just 13 points.

The Patriots lowered the offensive bar for Super Bowl-winning teams in their 13-3 triumph over the Rams Sunday. Yet the fact that they had the lowest point total of any of the 53 Super Bowl winners doesn’t do justice to what their defense accomplished by making that meager output stand up.


In the Super Bowl era (1966 to present), there were 509 playoff games leading up to this Super Bowl. Of those, 14 (2.8 percent) were won by teams that scored 13 or fewer points. Teams that were held to fewer than 14 points in that time were 14-214 (.061).

Related: How the Patriots defense befuddled the Rams.

Of course, as the Super Bowl underscored, a 13-point output is very different from a 3-point output. Yet even if limiting the examination just to those teams that scored exactly 13 points in the playoffs, the odds of winning remain extremely poor, with playoff teams going 5-33 (.131) when doing so.

Moreover, rules changes that have favored the offense in recent years have led to a steady increase in the difficulty of winning when scoring just 13 points. In 2001, teams went 12-21 (.364) when they scored 13 points — more than one of every three such teams winning. Between the 2004 and 2008 seasons, teams won just over 30 percent (.304) of games in which they scored 13 points.

That relative success looks like it’s from an era unrecognizable to the one in which the Patriots claimed their most recent Super Bowl triumph. Over the last five seasons, the 2014-18 campaigns, teams produced a 14-93 record (.131) when managing 13 points – meaning that just over one out of every eight teams won.


Related: Defense gets the credit for Patriots’ sixth championship

While this season saw a slight improvement prior to the Super Bowl, with teams going 3-13 (.188) with a 13-point output, no season in the last seven years has seen teams enjoying as high as a .200 winning percentage (one in five chance of winning) when scoring 13 points.

The Rams defense, then, did a remarkable job. In their nine trips to the Super Bowl this century, the Patriots had never been held to such a meager output. In franchise history, New England had been 0-8 in playoff games when held to 13 or fewer points. More broadly, teams had been 19-0 in the Super Bowl when holding opponents below 14 points.

Now, however, that record stands at 20-1, thanks to a Patriots defensive performance that more closely resembled something out of the leather-helmet era than the high-octane contemporary football environment.

An excellent Rams defensive performance was outshone by a great Patriots one, in a Super Bowl unlike any of the 52 that preceded it.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.