Matthew Farnham: Low scoring, but Brady masterclass was absorbing

Tom Brady celebrates with his family after winning his sixth Superbowl. Picture: Getty.
Tom Brady celebrates with his family after winning his sixth Superbowl. Picture: Getty.
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New England Patriots are the champions after a hard-fought and enthralling game with a stunted offensive performance to ride on one of the greatest defensive performances from a team in the NFL era.

Super Bowl LIII will go down in history for many reasons. It was Tom Brady’s sixth Super Bowl, Bill Belichick became the oldest coach to win, and it was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever.

A game that pitted the high-scoring offences would hinge on defensive plays. In the fourth quarter, Stephen Gilmore made that play for the Patriots with four minutes left, collecting an interception that all but ended the game.

The first drive of the game didn’t go well for the Patriots when Brady, on his first pass attempt, threw towards a covered player. The Rams couldn’t believe their luck and had stopped the much vaunted Patriots attack.

LA could not move the ball against the New England defence which proved to be a pattern as the first half unfolded with Rams head coach Sean McVay and his young quarterback struggling to find any rhythm.

In the build-up to the game, it was the Patriots offensive line – tasked with protecting Brady from the Rams defenders – who were identified as key to any success. They were up against a massive Rams pass rush and while they had protected Brady – to this point – they struggled to keep him comfortable, giving up a sack and four hits while being pressured on many more plays.

With only a field goal separating the teams at half-time defences were well and truly on top in the game that had the Patriots leading. The only thing less impressive than the offences was Maroon 5’s half-time show.

The second half started with more of the same as the defences continued to dominate. The Patriots’ dominance in time of possession began to show as the length of time the Rams defence was on the field increased.

Late in the third quarter, LA finally managed to sustain a drive moving the ball into field position where Greg Zuerlein managed to tie the game at three each. Until this point, the Rams’ best performance had been punter Johnny Hekker who punted on nine of LA’s first ten possessions.

With the game so close both teams were well aware that only one drive could make a difference and Brady has made his name winning games in these situations.

Brady, while not at his usual level, had managed to pick out receiver and go-to guy Julian Eldeman throughout the game. With a little under ten minutes to play Brady hit four passes in a row – the first and last to big tight end Rob Gronkowski, with the latter being a beautifully arched pass for him to haul in at the one-yard line. On the next play, Sony Michel punched the ball in, sprinting through a hole made in the defensive line, for the game’s only touchdown and a 10-3 lead.

In reply, the Rams offence suddenly seemed fluid. Some quick passes had them in striking distance when Jared Goff threw the ball up in the face of pressure. As the pass arched through the air Patriots Safety Stephen Gilmore turned, located the ball and grabbed it.

The Patriots love to be in this position and slowly marched the ball down the field, taking time off the clock and adding three more points. Needing two scores, the Rams never had a chance despite a spirited attempt.

The Patriots had claimed their sixth title, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers but winning all six in 17 years.

The battle of the young pretender and the old master ended with Belichick once again a champion, while 33-year-old McVay took all the responsibility for the loss. The coach may look back at the game and think he outcoached himself. Instead of relying on what brought them to the big game McVay tried to out-think the opposition.

As a young team LA have the potential to be back in the big game, and next time they will bring experience. For now, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady are still the ones to beat.