For most of the game, Super Bowl 53 between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams was a close affair. With neither offense being able to generate much momentum for the first three quarters, the game remained highly contested into the final period. However, the Patriots were able to pull away late as a look at the win probability chart (via NumberFire) shows:
But which plays swayed the outcome the most and helped the Patriots, who entered the game with a 59.2% chance of winning according to the numbers, come away victoriously? There were plenty of them:
Best Patriots plays
Q4: 2-10-NE 27 (4:24) J.Goff pass deep right intended for B.Cooks INTERCEPTED by S.Gilmore at NE 4.
Win probability: +17.74%
The Patriots went up 10-3 midway through the fourth quarter by scoring the game’s first touchdown. However, the Rams replied by moving the football to the Patriots 27-yard line in just five plays. With the team building some momentum, New England’s defense stepped up to deliver — at least from a statistical perspective — the biggest play of the day: Duron Harmon blitzed from his safety spot and forced quarterback Jared Goff to throw an ill-advised pass towards wide receiver Brandin Cooks. However, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore read the play perfectly and undercut the pass for an easy interception at the 4-yard line.
While Gilmore’s play certainly is as big as any in the game, an argument can be made that another might have been even bigger — despite swinging the winning percentage only 4.21% in New England’s favor: Jason McCourty’s end zone pass breakup against Cooks in the third quarter. The wideout was open but the veteran cornerback sprinted over to knock the football out of the ex-Patriot’s hands to prevent L.A. from taking a possible 7-3 lead.
Q3: 3-7-NE 26 (2:56) J.Goff sacked at NE 35 for -9 yards (D.Hightower).
Win probability: +14.65%
The Rams were able to tie the game at 3 on the very next play, but Dont’a Hightower made sure to make the field goal as tough a kick as possible: the linebacker, who had a strong case to be named MVP, burst through the line to take down quarterback Jared Goff for a 9-yard sack on 3rd and 7. As a result, the drive stalled and Greg Zuerlein had to attempt a 53-yard kick.
Q4: 2-3-LA 31 (7:43) T.Brady pass deep left to R.Gronkowski to LA 2 for 29 yards.
Win probability: +11.16%
New England started to find some success against Los Angeles’ defense in the fourth period, with the team’s touchdown drive covering 69 yards in just five plays — the biggest of which a 29-yard pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Arguably one of the best ever throws by the Hall of Fame quarterback, he saw the tight end being covered by a linebacker and took advantage. One play later, Sony Michel was in the end zone.
Q2: 3-2-NE 47 (4:56) J.Goff sacked at LA 39 for -14 yards (K.Van Noy).
Win probability: +7.83%
The Patriots were able to create pressure on Jared Goff all day long, and to sack the Rams’ quarterback four times on the day. While Hightower’s in the third quarter was the biggest from the numbers’ perspective, Kyle Van Noy’s 14-yard takedown made Los Angeles lost the most yards. The play itself was just a perfect display of Van Noy’s abilities to read a play and react appropriately: he came from the second level to take down the passer after he had moved out of the pocket.
Q3: 3-5-LA 46 (13:10) J.Goff pass incomplete deep left to B.Cooks.
Win probability: +6.73%
Two plays after the Patriots lost defensive captain Patrick Chung to a broken arm, they were able to force a Rams punt on an incomplete pass. Goff attempted to hit Brandin Cooks — one of 13 targets on the day for him — but Stephon Gilmore was covering tightly and the pass ultimately fell incomplete. Los Angeles had to punt on its first drive of the second half.
Worst Patriots plays
Q3: 4-16-NE 35 (2:15) G.Zuerlein 53 yard field goal is GOOD.
Win probability: -11.33%
While Dont’a Hightower’s aforementioned sack pushed the Rams back nine yards and on the edge of field goal range, kicker Greg Zuerlein was still able to make it — thus tying the Super Bowl at 3-3 late in the third quarter and making his team’s biggest play of the day. However, Zuerlein later also missed a 46-yarder to the left that decided the game against Los Angeles.
Q3: 3-6-NE 47 (4:25) (Shotgun) J.Goff pass deep middle to R.Woods to NE 29 for 18 yards.
Win probability: -11.06%
Before tying the game, the Rams offense made one of its biggest plays of the day when Jared Goff connected with Robert Woods for an 18-yard gain on 3rd and 6. Late in the third quarter, the play was Los Angeles’ first of just three third down conversion of the day — an example for just how well New England’s defense was playing.
Q4: 3-4-LA 44 (15:00) T.Brady pass incomplete short right to J.White.
Win probability: -10.64%
The Patriots were able to move the football well after the Rams’ game-tying field goal, but their possession came to a halt at the Los Angeles 44-yard line. Tom Brady tried to hit running back James White on 3rd and 4 but the duo was unable to connect. New England opted to send the punting unit onto the field, which gave the Rams a chance to take their first lead of the day on their next possession. They did not.
4-1-LA 32 (1:16) T.Brady pass incomplete short left to R.Gronkowski.
Win probability: -9.52%
Late in the first half, the Patriots opted to forgo a 50-yard field goal and instead went for it on 4th and 1. However, Tom Brady’s pass intended for Rob Gronkowski fell incomplete as the tight end was closely covered by the Rams as a priority target on the must-have down. From New England’s perspective, the turnover on downs was a fitting way to end a first half full of offensive miscues. Speaking of which:
Q1: 2-7-LA 34 (12:14) T.Brady pass short right intended for C.Hogan INTERCEPTED by C.Littleton.
Win probability: -9.26%
New England started the game with the football and moved it quickly to the Rams’ side of the field. However, on a 2nd and 7, the Patriots made their first big mistake of the game: Brady attempted to hit Chris Hogan but he was covered tightly, which led to a tipped pass and an interception.