Three years removed from a disappointing loss in Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams have finally been able to get over the hump. The team of head coach Sean McVay beat the AFC representative Cincinnati Bengals with a final score of 23-20 to cap off the 2021 NFL season as world champions.
The team that defeated them those three years ago, meanwhile, remains in rebuilding mode despite reaching the playoffs this season. The New England Patriots are forming their roster around first-round quarterback Mac Jones, trying to get back to where the Rams now are: the NFL mountaintop.
In order to get there, they can take a look at the new champs and learn a thing or two.
You can still win a Super Bowl without elite quarterback play
Mac Jones had as impressive a rookie season as any in recent memory, but the Patriots’ young quarterback is still far away from the league’s elite at the position — players such as
Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers or the Bengals’ own Joe Burrow. One player not quite in that category, meanwhile, is Los Angeles’ starting QB.
Matthew Stafford had an impressive first season as a Ram after joining the team via trade from the Detroit Lions. The 34-year-old had his fair share of downs to go along with his ups, however, throwing a league-high 17 interceptions during the regular season and plateauing a bit late in the year.
The Super Bowl was par the course for Stafford, who completed 65 percent of his throws for 283 yards as well as three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Despite the two turnovers, his team was able to come away victoriously — a testament to both Stafford’s ability to come through in the clutch, and the quality of the team overall.
If the Patriots can take one thing away from that game, it is therefore the fact that elite quarterback play is no necessity to win a championship in this day and age. It does make things a lot easier and widens a team’s margin of error, but with the right supporting cast in all three phases a very good quarterback can be more than enough to win the Super Bowl.
It goes without saying that New England trying to get Mac Jones to a level like that in 2022 should be imperative, and the possible difference between another early exit or deep postseason run.
Receiver talent matters — a lot
After catching eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, Los Angeles wide receiver Cooper Kupp was voted the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl LVI. Kupp therefore capped one of the most impressive receiving seasons in league history in perfect fashion.
The former third-round draft pick and college teammate of Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne put up some mind-boggling numbers during his 21 games this season: Kupp ended the year with 178 receptions for 2,425 yards and 22 scores. He became the league’s first triple crown winner since 2005 — leading the NFL in catches, yards and touchdowns — and was voted Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Pro.
Having Kupp around made Matthew Stafford’s life a lot easier throughout the season and in the Super Bowl. When the Rams needed to score a touchdown late to take the lead down four points, the veteran quarterback looked Kupp’s way on multiple occasions: Los Angeles’ game-winning drive covered 79 yards; 46 of them plus the final touchdown came courtesy of the Stafford-Kupp connection.
The Patriots finding their own Cooper Kupp for Mac Jones to work with is unrealistic. Not only do they lack the financial resources this offseason to make a big splash on the free agency market, no rookie should be expected to immediately rise to the ranks of the NFL’s best in Year 1.
That said, New England should still try to get Jones a true WR1. The current receiving group of Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and restricted free agent Jakobi Meyers — plus tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith — has some potential and developed a solid chemistry with the youngster in 2021. However, it lacks the same high-end playmaking ability of the Rams’ receiving corps.
That ability extend beyond Kupp, by the way. Before leaving the game with a knee injury, Odell Beckham Jr. caught two passes for 52 yards and a score. His departure put pressure on the Rams’ receiving depth and their best offensive player.
Kupp was able to answer the call. It is no stretch of the imagination to think the Patriots would not be well-equipped to handle one of their starting-caliber pass catchers going down.
In fact, you don’t even have to look far for an example. After testing positive for Covid-19, Bourne was severely limited in Week 16 versus the Buffalo Bills. Jones and New England’s passing game as a whole were unable to overcome those limitations.
Depth and talent at the receiving positions matters a lot, and the Rams are a good example of that. New England will not need to find its own Cooper Kupp to take the next step on offense, but getting Mac Jones a reliable pass catcher with considerable big-play potential has to be priority number one this offseason.
New England needs to keep investing in the trenches
One of the biggest differences between the Rams and Bengals was the play of the Los Angeles defensive line versus Cincinnati’s blockers up front: led by perennial Pro Bowler Aaron Donald, the NFC champions dominated for much of the day and made big plays especially late.
While the Bengals did manage to gain a solid 4.2 yards on their 19 non-kneel-down runs, their pass protection was atrocious yet again. Three weeks after allowing Joe Burrow to get sacked nine times by the Tennessee Titans, the group gave up seven takedowns in the Super Bowl. The game-clinching fourth down was also the result of Cincinnati failing to give its quarterback sufficient time in the pocket.
Likewise, the Rams dominated. Aaron Donald and Von Miller had two sacks each, disrupting the Bengals’ offensive rhythm throughout the game.
Both sides — plus the L.A. O-line struggling to generate any push in the running game — can serve as educational stories for the Patriots. They need to keep investing their trenches in order to put both their young passer and their defense as a whole in favorable positions.
Some of that was already done last year. On defense, New England drafted Christian Barmore in the second round and also invested in Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. in free agency. Offensively, the team reacquired Trent Brown and Ted Karras.
With Brown and Karras both headed for unrestricted free agency, however, the Patriots need to make more big decisions this offseason. They also need to decide on the future of starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Add the fact that offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo departed to join the Las Vegas Raiders and you see the New England O-line in a potential state of turnover. As Super Bowl LVI showed, however, both this line and the one on the other side of the ball can very much make a major difference between winning and losing.
Just ask the Rams.