It wasn’t pretty, but that didn’t matter when the red-and-blue confetti flew inside the Mercedes-Benz Dome.
In a 13-3 win Sunday over the Los Angeles, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots captured their sixth Super Bowl title in less than two decades. The game featured only one touchdown, 14 punts, and a “surreal” MVP trophy for Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Here’s how sports columnists across the country reacted to the team’s latest, if un-flashy, victory.
The Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy writes that opposing fans and teams alike “can only be envious” of this run of success.
This one will not go into the vault as an instant classic. It was a punt-filled, rock fight that will be best remembered for New England’s staunch defense and a Rams offense that set records for futility.
Fortunately for the Patriots, there are no style points in these wins. Everyone knows that this was not one of the stronger Patriots editions of the Bill Belichick-Brady era. They lost five road games and were underdogs for the AFC Championship game in Kansas City. But they overcame all the obstacles. They were smarter than the other guys at every turn. And in the end, the Hoodie earned his eighth Super Bowl ring (two as an assistant with the Giants), and 41-year-old Brady became the most decorated player in football history with his sixth championship ring.
Despite their history of close games and unlikely finishes in the Super Bowl, the Globe‘s Chad Finn says this one was unexpected in a different way:
We expected it to be close, because Patriots Super Bowls always are — they had won their previous five by a combined 19 points. But not in this particular way, in a low-scoring game between teams that had combined for 963 points in the regular season. And yet in the end, it was their largest margin of victory than in any of their previous five Super Bowl wins. Who said sports were predictable?
Another surprise was Julian Edelman’s long, unlikely rise to become Super Bowl MVP, writes the Globe‘s Tara Sullivan:
Remember, Edelman was an undersized California quarterback who couldn’t get Division 1 notice, who made a stop at junior college before finally getting his chance at Kent State, who made the decision to switch to wide receiver to entice NFL scouts to look at him, and who took the opportunity to play for the Patriots as the greatest professional gift he could have been given.
To cap that by becoming the seventh wide receiver to be named Super Bowl MVP, to join Deion Branch as receivers to win that award by catching passes from the four-time Super Bowl MVP, to do so in a season filled with suspension at the start and sadness toward the end (who can forget Edelman’s heartfelt empathy for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue?), it barely seemed real as that confetti hit the turf.
ESPN writer Ian O’Connor argues that, with this win, the country should appreciate the Patriots dynasty as the “the greatest in the history of American sports, college or pro”:
For the 44 states in the union that don’t call the Patriots the home team, Sunday night should mark the end of a dysfunctional relationship and the beginning of something pretty special.
Unlike the dynastic franchises of the NBA, NHL and MLB — the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Montreal Canadiens and New York Yankees — the Patriots could never fall back on the margin for error allowed in best-of-five and best-of-seven series. And unlike the college dynasties of John Wooden, Geno Auriemma and Nick Saban, Belichick’s Patriots can’t recruit the country’s best players year after year.
Even in Los Angeles, writers credited the Patriots. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke writes that, when it mattered most, Brady stepped up when Rams quarterback Jared Goff did not:
In the final frazzled minutes of Super Bowl LIII Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Brady threw the New England Patriots into the lead. A few desperate breaths later, Goff threw the Rams’ season away.
Even on an “off-night,” fellow Times columnist Sam Farmer writes that Brady was — and that the Patriots have become — virtually “untouchable”:
With Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach, the Patriots have won six Super Bowls in 18 seasons. No matter what you feel about the franchise — and it is football’s most polarizing — that’s stunning. An average of one Lombardi Trophy every three years during that span — and in the salary-cap era, no less, when it’s nearly impossible to keep the core of teams together from year to year.
The one constant on the field for the Patriots is Brady, who, as ESPN number crunchers point out, has six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime of Super Bowls. Nobody else in the modern era has more than six in all of the playoffs.
Sunday night, all that Brady-Belichick experience was on display. The quarterback and coach are a combined 107 years old, whereas the Rams’ Jared Goff and Sean McVay are a combined 57. In Super Bowl LIII, that seasoning showed.
The Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins says the Patriots “wrecked” Super Bowl LIII. But she means it as a compliment:
A light and elegant Rams offense accustomed to having its way all season couldn’t get a single thing it wanted against the Patriots. After eight straight punts, you wondered how 24-year-old Rams quarterback Jared Goff held his head up. Time and again, the Patriots abruptly knocked him down and spectacularly batted away his passes. None were more important than the ones Jason McCourty streaked across the field to barely swat away from a wide-open Brandin Cooks in the end zone late in the third quarter and the interception that Stephon Gilmore fatally seized out of the air at the New England 4-yard line with 4:17 left in the game.
Not everyone was so enamored.
— Timothy Givens (@TGGivens) February 4, 2019
Amid protests Sunday in New Orleans over the Saints’ controversial loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship game, the Times-Picayune‘s Jeff Duncan says his city won Super Bowl Sunday:
… few folks in New Orleans bothered to watch it as they followed through with their promise to boycott the game in the wake of the Saints’ controversial loss in the NFC Championship Game.
They picked a good Super Bowl to skip. By any standard, this was one of the least watchable games in the history of the event. The game was utterly devoid of drama, excitement or controversy. It made one of Bill Belichick’s press conferences seem thrilling by comparison.
Deadspin’s Drew Magary argues that Sunday’s game soured an otherwise exciting NFL season:
For all the good and honest citizens, it’s puke. It’s a sixth loaf-shaped turd plopping directly into the punch bowl. Normally, the NFL relies on a compelling Super Bowl to redeem an otherwise moribund season. And the Patriots, much as I hate them, have often delivered great television to soothe the league’s bunions. But last night felt like the opposite, with Brady & co. absolutely ruining an otherwise exciting season of pro football all so that they could pad their already lustrous credentials.
USA Today columnist Nancy Armour questioned if Edelman should have even been in the game, given his suspension earlier this season for performance-enhancing drugs. If it was another sport, she argued “we’d be howling about the sanctity of the game.”
It’s been seemingly forgotten now, but the wide receiver missed the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. In Major League Baseball, that also would have meant he’d be ineligible for the postseason.
That’s the dirty secret of the NFL, though. It doesn’t care about PEDs – at least, not enough to make the punishments tough enough to discourage their use – because the game benefits from them.
PEDs make players faster and stronger. PEDs allow players to recover faster and withstand the brutal pounding of a game that is the equivalent of a series of car wrecks. PEDs allow smaller players to hold their own against guys with six inches and 100 pounds on them.
Like, say, a receiver who is generously listed at 5-10 and 198 pounds. Who missed last season with a torn ACL.
And while the sixth title unarguably burnishes the legacy of Belichick and Brady, the Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Gay says this year’s “Snoozer Bowl” won’t be the one they remember:
30 years from now, when Tom Brady is 71 and bouncing his grandchildren on his knee—or, hey, maybe he’s getting ready to start for the Patriots in Super Bowl LXXXIII, coached by 96-year-old Bill Belichick—he probably won’t talk much about this one.
Oh that Super Bowl? The one we won 13-3? Yeah. Well, at least granddaddy got a ring. Who wants to have a scoop of avocado and hear me talk about the time we beat the Falcons?
What fans and players will remember, writes The Ringer’s Kevin Clark, is how the Patriots adjusted to their opponents and “reversed nearly every trend in the NFL” on Sunday:
The Patriots adapt better than any team in the history of football. If this information is new to you, then congratulations on consuming your first football game. In the past 12 months, the Patriots have played in the second-highest-scoring and lowest-scoring Super Bowls. In the NFL, parity is supposed to wreck good teams after a few years, and if that doesn’t work, injuries and age usually do. The only answer as to why New England does not suffer the same fate as every other franchise is that it’s playing a different game.
For 60 minutes on Sunday, the Patriots reversed nearly every trend in the NFL: This was the season with the most touchdowns in league history, and they didn’t allow the Rams to score one. Completion percentage was at an all-time high this season, and Jared Goff completed only half his throws. Sean McVay’s offense is considered so innovative that knowing him is taken as a qualification for a head-coaching job. Belichick so thoroughly contained the Rams offense that not knowing Sean McVay might be the best thing to say in a coaching interview for the next week or so.
The Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero says that yet another Super Bowl win for the Patriots may be “bittersweet” for hometown fans, given that New England’s de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores is reportedly slated to be introduced as the Dolphins’ next head coach.
During Super Bowl week he talked of the Patriots defensive game plan being a collaboration of him and the entire defensive staff and head coach Bill Belichick. And we hope that it’s more Flores and less Belichick because Belichick isn’t coming to Miami.
And because it would suggest if Flores can put his signature on games like this, he might be able to do it in Miami.
Unless the defensive performance was another Belichick masterpiece. The Washington Post‘s Adam Kilgore broke down how Super Bowl LIII staged “Belichick’s opus,” which began two weeks ago on a Foxborough practice field. It included switching coverage and a “vast array” of defensive line stunts.
Belichick unveiled his defensive game plan to his team early during the off week. Belichick and his staff had deduced that the Rams specialized in “man beaters,” Boyer said — tactics meant to defeat man coverage. Their litany of shifts, bunched formations, and frequent jet motion all thrive against man coverage, which is the style the Patriots played almost all season, and what they used extensively in Kansas City.
Against the Rams, though, the Patriots would start the game in zone coverage. The Patriots believed it would limit the effectiveness of how McVay dresses up his simple-yet-deadly scheme, and that it would stagger Goff, a 24-year-old facing Belichick for the first time.
In his morning-after column, Finn says the plan amounted to what may be “most dominating performance by a Patriots defense in a Super Bowl”:
The rough-’em-up performance by the 2001 Patriots against another flashy Rams offense has a special place in Boston sports lore, as well it should. It’s what got all of this started. But the Rams did come back in that game, tying the score at 17 late in the fourth quarter.
This Rams team, which scored 583 points this season entering the Super Bowl, finished the season with 586 points. They never could get it going.