Knee Jerk Reaction to Super Bowl LIII, Patriots vs. Rams

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles RamsKJR2

Things to consider while boning up on your Bible, Daniel 8: 5-8:

“As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat … came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. The goat became very great.”

Let me say right off the top I know Tom Brady didn’t carry the Patriots to the win this time. It’s just that as far as I know the Old Testament has no stories about a ram getting trampled on by a red-handed squirrel. So I have to go with I’ve got.

–I can’t do justice to what we just witnessed out of the Patriots defense. Not on one viewing of the game, anyway. They held the 11th-highest scoring offense of all time to 3 points. They threw stop sticks onto to the road in front of the third best rushing attack in the league, holding them to just 62 yards and 3.4 YPA. They took Jared Goff – one of the genetically-engineered metahumans expected to represent the bold new future of quarterbacking – and limited him to 170ish yards before allowing a bunch of meaningless completions that bled the clock and sealed the win. How exactly they did all that deserves better than a knee jerk reaction. The film of this game will be studied in classrooms forever. Like the strategy of some great battle. Or the technique of some legendary movie director. Or that film in health class where the teen has a sore on his lip.

–This wasn’t just the best game plan of the Belichick Era, it confirmed that the NFL has failed in its effort to make defense irrelevant. That you can still win a championship in some way other than your quarterback chucking it for 400 yards and four touchdowns. That the ludicrous Rams 54, Chiefs 51 Monday Nighter – basically a 7-on-7 drill pretending to be a football game – isn’t the where the sport is headed. Not yet anyway. The Patriots just won a championship by beating the No. 6, No. 1 and No. 2 offenses in the league. And didn’t give up a point in the first half to 1 and 2. Bill Polian’s wet dream of an NFL where defenders are running around with their hands zip-tied behind their backs has been put on hiatus, indefinitely. And you have the 2018 Patriots to thank for that.

–And before we move on here’s a fun fact to impress your co-workers and make you more desirable to the ladies: That win over Kansas City means the Pats have now beaten seven league MVPs in the postseason. Kurt Warner in 2001, Peyton Manning twice, Steve McNair in ’03, LaDainian Tomlinson in ’06, Matt Ryan in ’16 and now Patrick Mahomes. Now promise me you’ll take this knowledge I’ve given you and use it for good.

–I feel like the thing that goes a mile up the keister of other fanbases more than any other is when Pats fans complain about how we never get an “easy” Super Bowl. Just a nice, relaxing three-score win you can sit back and enjoy. I think just saying it to other Massholes destroys a piece of the soul of everyone in Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. But it’s true. This one again took your brain and your reproductive organs and made sausage out of them. Brady’s interception. Another scoreless 1st quarter. Stephen Gostkowski missing another Super Bowl kick. Losing Pat Chung at a key moment. Adam Levine’s car alarm voice. We’re just fated to never having a laugher. And yet, weirdly enough, 10 points is by far the biggest margin of victory they’ve ever had in a Super Bowl. On the Pats Victory Scale, this was a blowout, relatively speaking. Go figure.

–So how did they do it? The short answer is they read my post from last week, “Here’s All the Advice the Pats Will Need to Stop Sean McVay’s Offense” and followed it point by point. The truthful answer is somewhat different.

–Basically Brian Flores took everything he’d been doing all year, 18 games worth of stuff McVay had on tape to plan for, and went the total opposite. The team that played a base nickel all year went with an almost goal line front, putting six men on the line of scrimmage. The team that played more man coverage than anyone in the league played zone almost half the time. A conservative, risk-averse defense based on containment and eliminating chunk plays went into attack mode. Flores was Costanza walking up to a chick at the diner saying “I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” And now, like then, doing the opposite worked.

–There’s no greater example than on the Stephon Gilmore interception, the biggest play of the game.

It was 2nd & 10 from the New England 27 and Goff was in shotgun. Flores then slowly unzipped his fly by calling a Cover-0 blitz. That would be the same gamble Dick LeBeau took in overtime against Denver that made it so Tim Tebow will ascend into heaven with an NFL playoff win. (Because those you CAN take with you.) Flores dropped Devin McCourty down into the box in the gap alongside Lawrence Guy. Dont’a Hightower (one of the keys to my aforementioned game plan blog) ate up right tackle Rob Havenstein, allowing McCourty to shoot the G-T gap and Todd Gurley picked him up. But Duron Harmon, who had subbed in for Chung, came in free behind him and got missile lock on Goff, who made a desperation throw. Gilmore knew what Brandin Cooks didn’t; that the blitz was on and the ball was coming out quick. And he was the only one with a chance to make the catch.

–It takes a ferocious iron will to make a call like that with a championship hanging in the balance. Last year at this time I half expected the Lions to break up with Matt Patricia via text and then block his number. But if I’m the Dolphins right now, I’m spending all night every night FaceTiming Brian Flores until we can be together.

–Overall it wasn’t a bad weekend for Patriots cornerbacks with the number 24.

–Nor was it a bad weekend to be a member of the Pats’ Rutgers Mafia. Devin McCourty and Harmon cause the key turnover. Jason McCourty recovered from a total breakdown in coverage to break up a wide open Cooks in the end zone and save us from utter disaster. It’s hard to remember now, but in preseason he was playing safety with the 12th stringers and in the training camp media tent I was hearing he might be released. It’s a long way to come from playing out of position with the scrubs in the 4th quarter of fauxball games to a PBU to save the Super Bowl. All I know is the Pats haven’t drafted a Scarlet Knight in far too many years and need to rectify that situation, post haste.

–For the most part, on 1st and 2nd downs, the Pats played post safety (single high in the middle of the field), loaded the line with the fatties like Guy, Danny Shelton (who totally redeemed what was pretty much a wasted season) and Adam Butler in the middle and Deatrich Wise on the end. Pretty much matching the Rams tight spacing with size to stop Gurley and CJ Anderson. What that did was neutralize the Play Action, which McVay calls on 77 percent of their throws, as much as any OC in the league. On 3rd downs, they dropped into quarters coverage, four defenders each taking a deep quarter of the field, taking away Cooks and Robert Woods. As a result, Goff was like 0-for-5 on attempts of 20-plus yards. You might as well have taken McVay’s oxygen or his carefully manscaped three-day beard. And he simply was not prepared to adjust to what Belichick and Flores threw at him.

–I can’t talk enough about Flores’ aggressiveness. Or stop comparing it to Patricia’s passive approach to the Eagles last year, sitting back and waiting for Nick Foles to make a mistake that never came. It’s just night and day. Like going from a Wes Anderson character to R. Lee Ermey.

–Take for example, the beginning of the 2nd quarter when he had the Rams backed up inside their own 10 facing a 3rd & 7. He dialed up the State Worker defense, with Trey Flowers in a stance head up on the center and the other guys standing around doing nothing. In spite of all the tape the Rams have on that front, it still confused their protection. Five guys rushed and Hightower beat Havenstein with a rip move but the back didn’t pick him up. Goff had to get rid of the ball fast and John Simon (Christ, what a pick up he turned out to be) got a hand on it for a near interception. Pulling that formation out of the playbook so early in the game was all the proof we needed that Flores was playing for keeps.

–Hightower was immense. Moving back and forth from off-the-ball Mike to up-on-the-line Will. Setting edges. Filling cutback lanes when the Rams tried inside zone runs. The Rams only score was settling for a field goal after Hightower killed the drive by getting his outside shoulder inside guard Austin Blythe and shooting in for the sack. Add that one to his Super Bowl scrap book along with stuffing Marshawn Lynch and strip-sacking Matt Ryan. At the beginning of the season, Hightower looked slower than he ever has in his career. And I’m vowing right now I’ll never complain about the defense in September ever again.

–On the other side of the ball, give Wade Phillips all the credit in the world. At least Wade Phillips’ fair share of all the credit in the world, because I’d still like some to go to Doctors Without Borders, the military and the guys who skydive into raging forest fires. I don’t want to give it ALL to him. But he had a hell of a night as well. Belichick talked this week about how he’s essentially run the same scheme that he learned sitting on Bum Phillips’ knee, at an age where most kids are lucky if their dad reads them “Goodnight Moon.” (Note: I added that last part. Belichick didn’t specifically mention it, though it was implied.) He did an outstanding job of mixing coverages and disguising them to keep the Pats from getting into much of a rhythm. They broke up what felt like dozens of 3rd down passes. And got just enough negative plays against the Pats running backs to keep them from putting the game away until sphincter-puckeringly late in the game.

–I think the game plan going in was to iso Julian Edelman with Aqib Talib. And if you’re wondering how that worked out, I refer you to the trophy Roger Goodell is handing Edelman today. Talib’s game has always been predicated on jamming receivers before they get into their breaks. Well you can’t jam what you can’t get your hands on. (Unless it’s Maroon 5’s awesome guitar licks, that is.) Edelman just continues to be unjammable. To free him up, Josh McDaniels designed a ton of motions, where he was moving in at the snap to release (in the Pats playbook that’s “Zing” when you’re the Z-receiver and “Wing” when you’re the X. Because “Xing” would just confuse everybody in the huddle) so he was already into his route before DBs could touch him.

–And Edelman was unstoppable on 3rd downs. Which is kind if his postseason thing. No conversion he made was bigger than the post he ran on Lamarcus Joyner for 27 yards with the Patriots on their own 14. Even though the drive stalled, that play flipped the field and the subsequent punt was downed at the LA 2. But pick any catch he made and you’ve got a winner.

–For all of Brady’s struggles to exploit a fairly exploitable defense, he make colossal throws in crunch time. That ball to Gronk that set up the only touchdown of the game was a laser-guided smart bomb. Gronk was in the slot, with Edelman running from the other side running a slant that drew the lone deep safety, John Johnson (if that’s your real name) just long enough to leave Gronk singled up on Corey Littleton. Brady dropped it right where only Gronk could get his hands on it and just before Johnson came over. Championship play.

–I thought early on the plan was to get advantage of the penetration of the Rams interior linemen by running right past them. And on the first play it worked, with Sony Michel blowing by Aaron Donald for 13. But Donald and Suh adjusted and the lack of gap discipline I think McDaniels was hoping for wasn’t there. But what was there was the offensive line just being physically stronger, working in sync and grinding the Rams’ front-7 down.

–The O-line’s finest hour was the drive that ended with the second field goal that put the game away. Facing a 2nd & 9 on their own 5, they ran a power with two tight ends and no fullback in which Marcus Cannon ran a combo block on Donald with Shaq Mason before bouncing up to the second level to wipe out Littleton. Meanwhile Dwayne Allen kicked out Dante Fowler and Joe Thuney pulled from the backside to stop Mark Barron in his tracks coming up in run support to plug the hole. That went for 26 yards. A couple of plays later, Rex Burkhead picked up another 26 with two tight ends, only this time on an off tackle run behind James Develin. And Jimmy Neckroll had dibs on wiping out Barron on that one.

–Overall, it was just a phenomenal year from an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the gravest concerns going into the season. One of the most certain omens of the pending doom of the once mighty Bradichick Epoch. Imagine how good they’d be if their top draft pick didn’t blow out his Achilles playing fake football in August.

–Dante Scarnecchia deserves the Nobel Prize in Assistant Coaching.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end as to be worthy of remembrance!” – King Theoden, Lord of the Rings

–The commercials, the halftime show critique and all the window dressing of the whole Super Bowl viewing experience I’ll leave to someone else. I don’t have the luxury of taking all that in like I did back when it was, say, the annual snorefest of another blowout win by the Cowboys or 49ers. Instead, it’s Footballmaggedon each and every single year. And I wouldn’t trade this emotional grind for any other sports experience.

–Nor would I trade the feeling of being emotionally attached to this franchise for any other institution in American culture. None. Everything else pales in comparison. The more they succeed, the more people hate them. The more people hate them, the more they succeed. And the more the perpetual motion machine of success/resentment/success spins, the more loyalty it generates from Patriots fans. So please, don’t ever let the hatred stop.

–And now the words the world dreads to hear more than any other: We’re onto Super Bowl LIV.

Jerry’s Final Thoughts: I just want to end by saying I’ve been writing these Knee Jerk Reactions since long before Barstool came into existence. Originally I posted them on a Patriots message board and got good feedback. From the time I started writing for Barstool in like 2005, I started writing them and haven’t missed a game since. Even though it takes me hours. Because it’s worth every second. Dave liked them enough to make them a feature in the old print edition. And the support has always been overwhelmingly positive, and very much appreciated. So I just want to say once again thanks to everyone for reading these. For reaching out to say it’s a part of your Monday mornings. And for giving me this forum to put into writing the random nonsense I subject my family, my friends and myself to 19 times a year. I’m already looking forward to doing one about Banner Night on the first Thursday in September. #StillHere.