To say a person or event made “history” is technically speaking redundant as every action taken is adding to what we describe as history. However, it all depends on the scope and the focus we are using in order to mark something as truly “historical.” Take pro football, for example: a team releasing a practice squad player mid-season is certainly noteworthy from his personal perspective, but it is hardly an event that will get mentioned in the NFL annals.
What does get mentioned, though, is larger scale developments such as championship games — especially those that set new records or are for some other reason memorable for the general discourse of the sport. In this case, one can say that yesterday’s Super Bowl that saw the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams with a final score of 13-3 certainly classifies as such a historically significant event.
Now, the final score does not jump out and the game itself might be described as rather dull from a general observer’s perspective. However, it still saw plenty of history being written and one aspect of it stands out in particular: the play of the Patriots defense, a unit that forced nine punts and a turnover on twelve drives. The three points scored by the Rams offense ties the lowest ever for a team in the Super Bowl.
Those numbers certainly are historic in that they made their way to the record books — especially in a season like 2018. All year, offenses dominated and points were scored at a record pace. Yet on the biggest of stages it was the two defenses that set the tone, with New England’s being able to outshine its counterpart and limit the L.A. offense to just 260 yards on 60 plays and most importantly only one field goal.
For Bill Belichick, the secret behind holding a team that averaged 32.4 points per game coming into the Super Bowl to a mere three when it mattered most is a simple one. “Team defense, there’s no one guy that can stop the Rams. They have too many good players, too many explosive guys, too well coached,” said the Patriots’ head coach. “I thought we played the run competitively, I thought we rushed the passer competitively, I thought we covered competitively.”
The Patriots’ abilities to compete at such a high level is what earned them records beyond just the points total. One of them perfectly illustrates New England’s utter dominance for 60 minutes on Sunday. No Super Bowl team before was ever forced to punt on as many consecutive series as Los Angeles: the NFC champions saw their first eight drives all end with punter Johnny Hekker coming onto the field to kick the football away again.
New England, led by the ferociously playing linebacker duo of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, made life hard for the Rams offense both on the ground and through the air. While quarterback Jared Goff went just 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception, Los Angeles’ backfield — including first-team All-Pro selection Todd Gurley — was limited to 62 yards on 18 carries. No matter what head coaching wunderkind Sean McVay dialed up, the Patriots were ready.
According to Belichick, they were able to accomplish all that due to their ability to put themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations. “We didn’t give up big plays, which they’ve hit on everybody. We were able, for the most part, to keep the ball in front of us and force them to execute a solid number of plays to move the ball,” the now-eight time Super Bowl winner said. “Eventually, we were able to get some stops.”
“I thought our third down defense was competitively — they shortened some drives and got us off the field,” Belichick continued before also pointing out that his team’s ability to play the ball in the passing game and challenge the receivers was a big reason for the defense’s success. “We had several good pass breakups, and of course [Stephon] Gilmore’s play on the blitz when he went up and high-pointed the ball and took it away for the interception.”
All combined, the Patriots were able to hold the 11th highest scoring team in NFL history to the lowest points total in Super Bowl history. As inconsistent as New England’s defense might have been at times in its previous 18 games, it pushed all the right buttons when it had to do. The result is a performance for the ages and another Vince Lombardi Trophy headed to the trophy case at Gillette Stadium.