Column: Patriots-Rams Snoozer Bowl was one to forget


Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman hoists the Lombardi Trophy after the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots was originally billed as a showdown between two of the game’s most schematically innovative coaches, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. It was also a chance for the upstart Rams to dethrone the annoyingly successful Patriots, who absolutely no one wanted to see win aside from their own fans.

In short, the game did not live up to its potential. It didn’t even come close — the Patriots won in a 13-3 snooze-fest that broke a 46-year-old record to become the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. It was an anticlimactic, painfully boring viewership experience. Before getting into the details, let’s backtrack and look at the expectations coming into the game.

Here you had Rams head coach Sean McVay, the 33-year-old savant with a borderline eidetic memory who seemingly never met a defense he couldn’t out-scheme. Debuting as the youngest head coach in NFL history last season, McVay did the unthinkable — he took the Rams’ sluggish offense from dead last in 2016 to first in points per game in 2017. He took the franchise’s No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, a quarterback many wrote off as a bust after his dreadful rookie season, and turned him into a Pro Bowler.

And on the other side, you had the five-time Super Bowl winning duo of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, universally considered to be the greatest in NFL history at their respective roles. Not much else needs to be said about them.

This game was supposed to be a shoot-out. The Rams averaged the second-most points per game in the regular season with 32.9 and the Patriots were right behind them at No. 4 with 27.2. They played at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a state-of-the-art indoor facility with no wind to affect field goals and no loose or wet grass to affect footing, although Goff still managed to slip during one of the game’s most consequential plays.

Last year’s Super Bowl, between New England and the similarly offense-minded Philadelphia Eagles, set the record for most combined yards between two teams — in any NFL game ever — with an astounding 1,151 yards. It also set a Super Bowl record for fewest punts from both teams, with one.

Taking all this into account, Las Vegas sports books set the over/under, which is a general estimate of the teams’ combined point total, at 56 heading into kickoff, the third-highest ever for the big game.

I’ll be honest, my hopes were not super high heading into this matchup. I, along with most neutral football fans, would have rather seen the thrilling theatrics of NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs up against MVP runner-up Drew Brees and a perfectly likable New Orleans Saints organization. Instead, we got the Patriots for what seems like the 20th time this century, and the only thing standing in their way of an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl — tied with Steelers — was Jared Goff, a young quarterback whose very name evokes feelings of blandness and mediocrity.

But, like most other disgruntled football fans and Super Bowl advertisement enthusiasts alike, I gritted my teeth and tuned in to watch the festivities. It should at least be a close game, I told myself. The Patriots always keep things close. Of their previous eight Super Bowls this century, all eight were decided by single digits, with the closest margin coming in last year’s 41-33 loss to the Eagles.

The game began excitingly enough, with Brady throwing a rare ill-advised pass that was tipped up and intercepted on the fifth play.

Instead of using that momentum to drive the ball down New England’s throat, the Rams responded with a stinker of a possession — three plays for two yards, then a punt.

The Rams’ next five possessions ended the exact same way — punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. I’m not quite sure at what point I realized the game was going to stink, but I think it was after the penultimate punt on that list, when LA lost six yards in three plays and once again ceded possession. Here’s Goff on that play, looking like a deer in the headlights and running smack-dab into a sack on third-and-2 despite having ample time to throw.

For all the Rams’ ineptitude, the Patriots didn’t fare much better themselves. New England managed just three points and Brady posted an uncharacteristically mortal-looking first-half stat line, completing 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards and an interception. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, typically a bastion of consistency, missed a 46-yard field goal in the first quarter.

The only offensive player to stand out for either team was Pats’ wideout Julian Edelman, whose 93 receiving yards in the first half almost doubled the Rams’ 57 total yards. Edelman torched LA’s secondary all night, finishing with 10 receptions for 141 yards to earn the MVP trophy.

And so the Patriots went into halftime leading 3-0. It was an obscenely boring first half, but at least social media provided some entertaining quips about how the low score compared with the halftime act, Maroon 5.

One might think that McVay, being a supposedly pioneering football mind, would have made adjustments in the halftime locker room that would, you know, allow his team to come within a stone’s throw of the end zone.

Nope. The Rams scored a whole three points in the second half and never even crossed into that area past the opposing 20-yard line known as the red zone. Those three points came on a 53-yard field goal from kicker Greg Zuerlein, which he made in spite of Goff taking another head-scratching sack with his team on the edge of field-goal range.

If this wasn’t clear before, Goff played a very bad game. He completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, and also took four sacks for 31 yards. Say what you want about New England’s ingenuity in making the Rams’ offense look irrelevant, but there were several scoring opportunities that LA simply failed to capitalize on.

Take this play, for example, in which receiver Brandin Cooks created about 15 yards of separation between him and the next-closest Patriots defender. But Goff failed to see him wide-open in the end zone until it was too late, and instead of going up 7-3 the Rams had to settle for a field goal.

On defense, despite mostly keeping New England out of the end zone, the Rams still left much to be desired. They failed to dirty up Brady’s jersey, sacking him just one time on the evening. At one point, NFL defensive player of the year and former Pitt alum Aaron Donald took out his frustrations with a late cheap shot on Brady that the refs didn’t see.

Had the Rams somehow won, the MVP trophy might have actually gone to their punter, Johnny Hekker. He was arguably their most productive player, punting a whopping nine times for 417 yards. One of those was a 65-yard masterpiece that set the new record for longest punt in Super Bowl history.

The teams went into the fourth quarter all tied up at 3-3 (!!!), with the only saving grace being that it was still technically a close game, even though it never really felt like it. It felt more like the scene from The Dark Knight Rises where the one henchman claims to be in charge, only for the villain Bane to remind him that he’s not in charge at all.

It felt like Bobby Fischer playing a middle-schooler in chess and keeping the match close for his own amusement until the very end, only to dispatch his opponent’s king with ease. The box score would back this up, with New England out-gaining the Rams by a hefty margin in nearly every facet of the game including first downs (22-14), passing yards (253-198) and rushing yards (154-62).

Of course the Patriots, as if on cue, drove 69 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with seven minutes left. LA almost tied it up on a first-down throw from Goff to Cooks, but Goff instead threw an interception on the very next play. New England then milked three minutes off the clock and Gostkowski booted home a 41-yard field goal to put the Pats up 13-3, essentially ending the game.

In conclusion, this game sucked — at least for everyone who doesn’t hail from that small gaggle of microscopic states located in the American Northeast. Most neutral football fans just wanted to see some entertaining football, and instead we were rewarded with a three-and-a-half-hour punting competition — no offense to punters. If you claim to have enjoyed this game as a self-proclaimed defensive purist, you are lying to yourself. Here’s NFL analyst Trey Wingo vehemently expressing that very opinion on national television.

Sure, the defenses were great. But there’s no excuse for being the league’s brightest offensive mind — looking at you, Sean McVay — and coaching your team to a whole three points on the nation’s biggest stage. So with all due respect, Mr. Wingo, the Super Bowl was boring, and I hope to never again sit through such a forgettable display of football as long as I live.