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Quarterly Report: Belichick took away what Rams did best



Theme: Patriots squander chances. New England ran 22 plays to the Rams’ 9 and outgained them, 107-29, but had nothing to show for it.

Slow starters: In nine Super Bowls, Tom Brady has yet to produce a touchdown in the first quarter.

First negative play: Ndamukong Suh burst through the line of scrimmage to stuff Sony Michel for a 4-yard loss on the Pats’ ninth play. The Pats ran 92 plays against the Chiefs in the AFC title game without having a single negative play.

Super nerves? Stephen Gostkowski made 83.3 percent of his field goals the last five years from 40 to 49 yards but missed wide left from 46 yards. He missed from 26 yards and on an extra point in last year’s Super Bowl.

Early Omen? Entering the game, the Pats were 4-0 in Super Bowls that ended 0-0 after the first quarter.

Matchups: Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore lined up on Rams deep threat Brandin Cooks — or on Cooks’ side of the field in zone coverage — on every play in the first half.

Second guess: Facing a fourth-and-3 situation from the Pats’ 41 late in the quarter, Sean McVay opted to punt, after taking a delay-of-game penalty.

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Theme: Defense wins championships? The Rams ranked second in the NFL in scoring at 32.9 ppg and the Pats ranked fourth at 27.3 ppg.

Two-back problems: The Pats’ two-back set (21 personnel) has been great in the run game during the postseason, but the Rams were ready for it. New England ran three times for 22 yards on the first drive with fullback James Develin on the field. But on the next eight two-back runs, the Pats managed only 22 yards.

No wide zone: The Patriots’ defense was ready for the Rams’ zone runs to the outside. Los Angeles averaged 5.3 yards a carry on outside zone plays. But with Todd Gurley sitting on the bench much of the first half, the Rams did not run any zone runs to the outside. (Gurley cut one zone run back inside.)

No blitz Brady: As expected, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips didn’t try to blitz Brady. The Rams ran just one rush of five men in the first half. That came on a third-and-10 play from the Rams’ 32 with 1:26 left in the half. The Pats gained 9 yards but failed on fourth and 1.


Theme: Greg the Leg ties the game.

Long FG: It was no surprise Rams place-kicker Greg Zuerlein connected from 53 yards to tie the game, 3-3, with 2:11 left. Zuerlein is 28 of 48 from 50 yards or more since entering the NFL in 2012. He’s 10 of 13 from 50-plus the past two seasons. Zuerlein’s 57-yard overtime kick gave the Rams their NFC Title win in New Orleans. It was the longest winning kick in NFL playoff history. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is the only kicker with more 50-plus field goals (35) since 2012.

A lucky Ram: Backed up in the back of his own end zone, Los Angeles punter Johnny Hekker got a bad strike on the ball that had a hang time of only 3.5 seconds and landed at the Rams’ 45. But it rolled to the New England 29 for a 65-yard punt, longest in Super Bowl history.

Rams attack: The Rams used three-receiver sets with one back an NFL-high 90 percent of their plays this year. Through three quarters, they ran three-wide sets with one back on 34 of 39 plays (87 percent). Backed up in their own territory twice, they opted to use two-tight-end sets.

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Theme: Patriot Reign.

Eight rings: Bill Belichick became the first head coach with six Super Bowls and tied Curley Lambeau and George Halas with six NFL titles. Belichick also has two more as defensive chief of the New York Giants.

Bill’s Plan: Belichick took away the run and the deep ball to Brandon Cooks. Make QB Jared Goff win the game from the pocket. He couldn’t do enough with the rest of the weapons to win. The Rams ranked No. 3 in rush yards (139 a game) but managed just 62.

Blitzing Brady: Credit Rams defensive chief Wade Phillips with a great game plan. But on the only Rams blitz of the second-half (and only the second of the game), Brady beat it for the 29-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski to the Rams’ 2.

Unsung hero: Dante Scarnecchia is the Patriots’ 70-year-old assistant head coach and offensive line coach. If there were a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches, he’d be in it. Super Bowl LIII was another highlight for Scarnecchia, not because the Patriots’ offensive line was great. But the Pats did enough. Rams All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald, with 20.5 sacks on the season, did not wreck the game.

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