ATLANTA – On a night when Tom Brady really wasn’t quite Tom Brady, he let the youngsters take over and the outcome was still the same.
In defeating the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 to claim their sixth Super Bowl title in the past 18 seasons, and third in the past five, the Patriots extended the most dominant dynasty in the history of the NFL and possibly in all of professional sports as we know it.
And they did it by proving that defense and the running game not only still matter; they still win championships.
New England took the opening kickoff and ran the ball four straight times for 13, 6, 5 and 3 yards, and then Brady dropped for his first pass, only to see it deflected and intercepted by Cory Littleton.
Immediately, Twitter blew up with the doubters and the haters ready to celebrate the end of an era. How many times do Belichick’s and Brady’s boys have to prove it to us before we understand it won’t ever be over until they say it is?
Belichick said it best while accepting his sixth Lombardi Trophy, tying him with George Halas and Curly Lambeau for the most championships by a coach in NFL history: “All year long, everybody counted us out, but we’re still here.”
Brady wouldn’t give the ball away again. Still, in finishing 21-of-35 for 262 yards without a touchdown, he put up a subpar performance — by his own GOAT standards — but one almost any other quarterback would be thrilled with in a Super Bowl.
And it was enough for “the little brother he never had,” Julian Edelman to catch 10 of the 12 balls thrown his way for 141 yards and his first Super Bowl MVP Award.
Edelman was 15 and hoping to get his drivers license when Brady & Belichick won their first Super Bowl.
On Wednesday of Super Bowl week, I was talking to the league’s Defensive MVP, Aaron Donald, and he told me, “We’ve got to stop the run first.
“They’ve got a strong running game, and I think they’ve been running the ball really strong in the playoffs, so before we have an opportunity to get to the quarterback we’ve got to stop the run first.
“As long as we do our job we’ll be fine.”
The Rams were game and played the best defensive game of the season against the Patriots, but it wasn’t enough.
The real question is: why was anybody surprised? Not only did the Patriots reinvent themselves to win this one, they did it after the 15th week of the season coming off a 2-2 stretch that had dropped them to 9-5.
They did it by averaging 40-183 rushing and a 13:07 time-of-possession advantage over the last two games of the season and their first two playoff games.
The Patriots not quite matching that in the Super Bowl is a credit to the Rams defense, but New England won because it did rush 32 times for 154 yards (4.8 YPC) and the Super Bowl’s lone touchdown.
The reasons were Sony Michel, who rushed 18-92-1, and Rex Burkhead (7-43).
Michel was exactly two weeks short of his seventh birthday, and Burkhead 11 years old when Belichick and Brady won their first title.
Michel refused to take the credit, saying, “When my number’s called, I just do my job as best I can.”
As good as the Rams defense was, the Patriots’ was better, and two guys, in particular, stood out.
When the Pats came up short last year it was in part because Dont’a Hightower wasn’t available, but in Atlanta, he led a pass rush that was relentless all night long and notched 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback hits.
Hightower was 11 when the Brady and Belichick first won it all.
The play of the game on ‘D’ came from cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was brilliant all night long with 5 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 INT and 1 FF. He easily could have been the MVP over Edelman.
With 4:24 to play, Jared Goff tried to hit Brandin Cooks in the end zone from the Pats’ 27, but Gilmore stepped in front of his pass to intercept the ball and seal the win for the Patriots.
Gilmore was also 11 when New England won its first Super Bowl.
And, of course, there is Gronk, 12 when Brady and Belichick first won, finishing with 6-87 receiving and the offensive play of the game with a 29-yard catch from Brady with 7:43 to play, setting up Michel’s touchdown on the next play and the winning points.
This was a Super Bowl that for long stretches wasn’t pretty, but it was a brilliant defensive battle with just enough special moments on offense keeping us on the edge of our seats until almost the final gun.
The Rams have nothing to apologize for and will almost certainly be back.
But it’s never been clearer: as long as Belichick and Brady are together, the Super Bowl is their house.
As in most homes, kids will grow up and come and go, but nobody else is moving in until the owners decide it’s time to go.