It was one of the ugliest championship games in league history, but Super Bowl LIII was a beautiful thing for the New England Patriots.
In front of an extremely pro-Patriots crowd, Bill Belichick and Co. claimed their sixth Lombardi Trophy in nine tries with a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Offensive highlights were purchased at premium prices as both defenses played at an extremely high level. But in the end, it was Tom Brady coming up with a monster throw in the fourth quarter, and Stephon Gilmore who came up with the game-sealing interception for the Pats.
These were our biggest Super Bowl LIII winners and losers.
Winner: Six rings for Brady and Belichick
It’s remarkable. Really. It’s hard to fathom. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have now won six Super Bowls together. No other coach/quarterback combination has more than four. And based on what Brady said about his future before Super Bowl LIII, they might just get one more before he finally hangs up the cleats.
Brady wasn’t sharp to open up the game against the Rams Sunday. He threw a really bad interception that was off target on his first attempt. He missed multiple throws that he’d normally make with his eyes closed.
Yet when it came time to make big plays in the clutch, Brady did what he’s been doing his entire career and delivered.
This 29-yard pass from Brady to Gronk was pure. One play later Sony Michel punched it in from two yards out to give the #GoPats the first touchdown of the game and a 10-3 lead in #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/OG5Ny71sxc
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 4, 2019
There’s no doubt that Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. He now has more championships than any player in league history. His legacy is unrivaled, and so also is that of his coach, who navigated the Patriots through a ton of controversy that began well before the season even started.
Loser: Rams’ first-half offense
For the first time in the Sean McVay era, the Rams were shut out at halftime. They had a grand total of 57 yards, two first downs, and went 0-6 on third downs.
Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson combined for 20 yards on seven carries. Jared Goff had just 32 net passing yards on 12 attempts. Honestly, he looked like he really was crapping his pants — as predicted by one Patriots player before the game — as he took a couple of really bad sacks.
Van Noy with the WHEEEEEELS gets to Goff, who really had no idea what to do with his hands. pic.twitter.com/RO7cNkNDsA
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 4, 2019
When it comes to scheming up game plans that thwart what opposing teams do best, Bill Belichick is the best in the business. But while he and his staff deserve plenty of credit for what they did in this first half, just as much blame needs to go on the shoulders of McVay, and his players.
Winner: Julian Edelman was unstoppable
Some players have the rare ability to rise up and play their absolute best with all the chips pushed to the middle of the table. Over the course of his career, Edelman has been unbelievably good in pressure-packed moments — his miraculous catch in Super Bowl LI being a prime example.
Once again, Edelman rose to the occasion for the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
— OptaJerry? (@OptaJerry) February 4, 2019
By halftime he had seven receptions for 93 yards as no Rams defender could stay with him. At the end of the game he’d racked up 10 catches for 141 yards.
Loser: Jared Goff crumbled under pressure
The issues that plagued Goff in the final quarter of the regular season showed up big time in Super Bowl LIII. He was slow to process the field, didn’t anticipate pressure, and all too often was far too late on his throws.
A prime example was the near touchdown in the third quarter. He had Brandin Cooks wide open in the back of the end zone but threw it toward his receiver far too late. That poor timing allowed the Patriots to break up the play. Then, with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Goff made the back-breaking mistake on an awful interception to Stephon Gilmore (watch here).
All told, the young quarterback passed for just 229 yards on 19-of-38 passing, with no touchdowns and the brutal interception.
Winner: Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy dominated
In the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII, we previewed the positional groups for both teams and concluded the Patriots had an edge at the linebacker position. The reasoning was that Van Noy has been playing incredible ball in recent weeks, and that Hightower’s experience would be a huge factor.
Both of these linebackers were monsters on Super Bowl Sunday. Van Noy was outstanding in the run game, hit Goff three times and came up with a huge sack of Jared Goff in the first half. Hightower nearly had an interception but let it go through his hands. But he was a dynamo blitzing up the middle, racking up two sacks and three quarterback hits.
Loser: Los Angeles’ offensive line got destroyed
Featuring one of the NFL’s top offensive lines all year long, the Rams have been running over some of the best defenses the league has to offer en route to their trip to Atlanta. On Super Bowl Sunday, this same line was dominated up front by the defensive front of New England, as the Rams gained just 62 yards on the ground.
Things weren’t any better when Jared Goff dropped back to pass, either. From the edge, and up the middle, Patriots pass rushers were able to generate consistent pressure. They hit Goff 12 times and brought him down four times for sacks.
It was a disheartening performance from this unit, which was a huge reason why Los Angeles got to Super Bowl LIII in the first place.
Winner: Johnny Hekker kept Rams afloat
In a game that was such a defensive struggle, special teams play was critical. While Los Angeles’ offense tried to keep its head above the water (failing more often than not), Hekker’s spectacular punting kept giving the team’s defense a fighting chance by flipping field position.
Midway through the third quarter, after having already done a marvelous job all game long, Hekker was backed up into his own end zone. From there, he unleashed a 65-yard punt that was the longest in Super Bowl history, backing the Patriots way up and once giving his defense a real chance to keep New England off the board.
All told, Hekker punted the ball nine times, averaging an absurd 46.3 yards per punt while pinning New England inside the 20-yard line five times.
Loser: Sean McVay got schooled
There’s a good chance 33-year-old wunderkind Sean McVay is going to get his team back to the big game. But there’s no doubt his first trip to the big dance was a learning experience.
It was a bit frustrating to see the Rams leaning so heavily on the passing game when it clearly wasn’t working. One of the best running teams in the league seemed to abandon it for large periods of time, despite the game never being out of reach until the final minute.
The young offensive mastermind was thoroughly dominated by Bill Belichick’s genius.
Winner: Sony Michel once again showed out
The young rookie running back has been such a key player for the Patriots the past month or so. Michel came into the game with 242 yards and five touchdowns in the playoffs and figured to be a big factor in Super Bowl LIII.
Not surprisingly, he had another big game on Sunday. Though Michel was a non-factor for big chunks of the game, he came alive in the fourth quarter and helped put the game away for good on the Patriots’ final drive.
When the final whistle was blown, this former Georgia Bulldog had 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, outgaining the entire Rams team in the process.
Loser: Of course the refs botched a call
It wouldn’t be an NFL game without the refs making at least one controversial call. In Super Bowl LIII, it happened pretty early.
Not even halfway through the first quarter, Nickell Robey-Coleman made a tremendous tackle on Rex Burkhead right after he received a short pass from Tom Brady. It sure looked clean (watch here). Even Tony Romo couldn’t believe the call. Current and former NFL players protested the call on social media, and for good reason.
Given the way the NFC Championship Game ended, perhaps the league wanted to be extra sure to make borderline calls (not that that non-call was in any way borderline). But regardless of any potential motivating factor, it really was not a good look for the league and its refs.