The best, worst, and everything in between from the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory
ATLANTA – It wasn’t a pick 6, rather a pick that secured No. 6.
Stephon Gilmore intercepted Jared Goff late in the fourth quarter to cap a brilliant defensive performance and the Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl title Sunday night, defeating the Rams, 13-3.
The championships, all under the stewardship of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, came on the 17th anniversary of their first title, also against the Rams.
Los Angeles appeared poised to tie the score, putting together their most effective drive of the night after Sony Michel’s 2-yard run had given the Patriots a 10-3 lead with seven minutes to go.
But Goff decided to pick on Gilmore, the All-Pro cornerback, one too many times.
With Duron Harmon bearing down him on a safety blitz, Goff rushed and floated a ball for Brandin Cooks toward the end zone. He came up short and Gilmore snagged it — and for all intents and purposes the Lombardi Trophy — at the 4-yard line.
“I knew when they got close to the end zone they like to take shots and I was able to get zone vision on it, I knew he was going to chuck it up and I made a great play,’’ said Gilmore. “It’s a great feeling.’’
After struggling to move the ball all night, the Patriots offense finally kicked into high gear in the fourth quarter to break the tie.
Rob Gronkowski came up big on the five-play, 69-yard drive, making catches of 18 yards and 29 yards before Michel strode in from the 2.
“It was crunch time,’’ said Gronkowski. “I knew it was going to come to me. I just had a feeling. We ran the [same] play like two plays earlier. I kinda beat the guy, had a little leverage, [Josh] McDaniels saw it, he repeated the play again, I knew it was going to come to me, Tom put it up there, I went and made play.’’
Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field was the icing on the cake as the Patriots became the lowest-scoring Super Bowl winner in history.
Defense never rested
The defensive game plan was brilliant as the Patriots had quarterback Jared Goff — and by extension coach Sean McVay — befuddled and bewildered throughout the game.
Bill Belichick mixed some zone and man and disguised coverages brilliantly, as he has the past month. Defenders showed they were rushing before dropping into coverage while others came late on the rush.
The result was a relentless wave of pressure on Goff, who was sacked four times and hit a dozen times.
“I never enabled us to get into a rhythm offensively,’’ said McVay.
Linebackers Dont’a Hightower (two sacks) and Kyle Van Noy (one sack) were zooming around all over the place and applied most of the pressure. They didn’t always get home but they were always knocking on the door.
“He’s a dog and I’m a dog,’’ said Van Noy.
“We’ve done a good job the last month of playing the way we want to play and we just had to come out here and be physical,’’ added Hightower.
Chung broke arm
The Patriots played most of the second half without Patrick Chung, one of their captains and most important defensive players.
The rugged strong safety broke his right arm during a friendly-fire collision with Jonathan Jones as they tackled Rams running back Todd Gurley in the third quarter.
Chung’s arm was placed in an air cast on the field but he refused to be carted off and instead walked off, in front of the cart. He returned to the sideline late in the game to cheer on his teammates. It was reminiscent of when safety Rodney Harrison broke his arm in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers.
“We responded well,’’ said Gilmore. “Patrick is one of the warriors on our team. When you see a guy like that coming in and putting his body on the line, not caring, you want to fight for your teammates.’’
Cooks was contested
The record will say Brandin Cooks had a good night – 8 catches for 120 yards – but that isn’t reality.
Cooks made two of those catches for 45 yards on the final garbage time drive but when it really counted he struggled. Like he did in New England, Cooks couldn’t make the contested catch.
He dropped a sure touchdown in the third quarter when Jason McCourty knocked the ball out of his hands at the last second.
Cooks said he was “waiting for the ball in the back of the end zone” but that “Jared saw it late.”
He also let another possible score slip through his fingers on the play before Goff’s fatal interception when Duron Harmon outmuscled him.
This is the second straight Super Bowl that Cooks has come out on the losing side. He left last year’s Super Bowl early because of a concussion.
“It’s disappointing,’’ said Cooks, who tipped his hat to Gilmore. “All that hard work that you put in and you get here and you don’t capitalize and then it’s like all over again you have to put all that hard work in again and hopefully continue to build and be able to get back here.’’
Stopping the rush
The Patriots offensive line reduced tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh to mincemeat. The normally ferocious pass rushers were continually swarmed by double- and triple-team combo blocks and couldn’t break free. Neither registered a sack and both landed just one hit on Brady.
“[Donald] is an elite player, we tried to double him but if not you just had to execute with technique,’’ said left guard Joe Thuney.
Donald also credited Brady for his struggles.
“At times, we would get to him but he would just get the ball out quick,’’ he said.
The Patriots, who were clicking on all cylinders offensively in their previous two playoff wins, did not established a consistent rhythm in this one.
Additionally, the clutch third-down play that had become a hallmark of this team in tyhe postseason went missing as the team converted on just 3 of 12.
“We moved it, we just couldn’t sustain it,’’ said Brady.
The Rams were equally abysmal on third down, missing on their first eight chances and going 3 for 13 overall.
Edelman Mr. MVP
Julian Edelman, who was named MVP, was immense, catching 10 passes for 141 yards. The man they call the Flying Squirrel provided the only offensive highlights of the first half, with 7 receptions for 93 yards.
Edelman, who missed last season with a torn ACL and the first four games of this season with a suspension, consistently found holes when the Rams played zone.
Edelman said he “honestly” never dreamed he’d be a Super Bowl MVP, but he would have chosen a different winner.
“The defense was unreal tonight, holding that offense to 3 points. It’s pretty crazy. They should be the MVP — the whole [defense].’’