In a tedious championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, New England confirmed that the ingredients of its success can’t be replicated by the rest of the NFL.
The skeptics were hard to identify, exactly; the Patriots were two-and-a-half-point favorites over the Los Angeles Rams. What few there may have been were proved wrong as New England won, 13–3. In retrospect, that drumming up of detractors seems like an attempt to fill a narrative vacuum—one that Sunday’s game exposed in full. The Patriots have spent the better part of the 21st century as the most successful franchise in pro football, with a quarterback and a coach uniquely suited to adapting to a sport in flux. Over four low-scoring and inevitable-feeling quarters, the Super Bowl simply confirmed them as such.
With just under 10 minutes left and the score tied at 3—“It’s the first Super Bowl ever without a touchdown through three quarters,” CBS’s Jim Nantz had noted earlier, doing his best to render the tedium historic—Brady slipped into his now-familiar mode. He floated a short pass to the tight end Rob Gronkowski, who rumbled for 18 yards, then fired the ball to Edelman in the middle of the field for 13 more. On a second down on the Rams’ 31-yard line, with the first palpable momentum of the evening behind him, Brady arced a deep throw to a tightly covered Gronkowski, who hauled it in at the two. A touchdown quickly ensued, then an interception of the Rams quarterback Jared Goff, then a clock-bleeding New England drive that ended in a field goal to put things out of reach. “It wasn’t pretty,” Edelman, the Super Bowl MVP, said afterward, “but we’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”
Beyond the hoarding of Lombardi trophies, the most frustrating aspect of the Patriots’ dominance, for the rest of the NFL, may be that it offers little by way of a blueprint. The discernible constant is also the element that can’t be replicated; the Patriots still have arguably the greatest coach and quarterback in NFL history. If other teams’ successes tend to reflect some certain advantage—a high-octane aerial attack or imposing defensive front—Belichick and Brady have a gift for adjustment. On Sunday night, Belichick engineered a defense that had graded out in the middle of the pack throughout the season to stop the second-highest-scoring team in football. Brady, after three quarters spent similarly stymied, spotted his opportunity and led the crucial drives.