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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

A Super Bowl Requiem for the Rams

Brought to you by the letter “L”

Here are the reasons the Rams lost to the Patriots:

L is for Layup

While both punters were excellent this season, the Patriots’ Ryan Allen had three remarkable punts that took perfect bounces, laying up on the green and leaving the Rams to start drives at their own 6, 2 and 7. Every time the Rams stopped a New England drive, those kicks put tremendous pressure on a sputtering Rams offense.

The Rams’ All-Pro Johhny Hekker was also great, as New England started drives at the 12 (due to a -5 yard return by Edelman), 19, 17, 2 (resulting in a kneel down on the last play of the half), and 8 (which led to a Rams field goal).

L is for Line

The Patriots defense lined up six in the box to take away the Rams rushing attack and then put tremendous pressure on Jared Goff. They were a huge part of the reason the Rams offense struggled.

On the other hand, the Rams offensive line came up way short. Players completely missed assignments, leaving defensive players with an unimpeded path to a ball carrier, or not picking up a blitz properly. Even when they got going a little bit on offense, they got a key holding penalty on a 13-yard Gurley run to the New England 44 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. This drive started at the Rams 7, and could have been the momentum changer that would have given the Rams a lead and fired up their defense. Instead, Goff made two bad passes, and McVay raised the white flag with a harmless run followed by an average punt that gave the Patriots good field position at their 31.

L is for Lamb

Jared Goff was really baaaaaaaa-aaaaaad.

He took unnecessary sacks that killed drives where the Rams finally had good field position. He forgot the snap count and got an illegal motion penalty. And he misread the defense on almost every throw, costing the Rams numerous opportunities to hit big plays.

On two plays, Goff threw to a double covered Brandin Cooks on left side of the field, and the replays showed two receivers completely open in the middle of the field. Making the right read would have resulted in two huge gains that possibly could have been touchdowns. On two other plays, Goff threw hanging floaters that allowed the defensive back to either break up the catch in the end zone, or intercept the ball at the New England 4.

Goff’s only good deep throw should have been caught by Cooks, in spite the Patriot defender holding down his left arm before the ball arrived and then throughout the entire catching action in a way that clearly prevented the receiver from getting both hands on the ball, which is to say he should have caught it one handed like OBJ did in that famous catch where he scored a touchdown and it didn’t matter that there was blatant pass interference (notice how I did that?).

Todd Gurley has still not looked right in mind or body since the Dallas game. On his only pass reception, he dove to the ground to catch a ball two yards behind the line of scrimmage, with a defender on top of him. Why on earth would a player try to complete the catch?

L is for Lob

In spite of all the problems the Rams had on offense, the difference in the game came down to four deep passes. Brady threw two perfect lobs to Gronkowski, while Goff made two horrible deep throws that resulted in a blown touchdown and an interception. On the second pass, Goff slipped and stumbled as he threw, even though he had time to set his feet before the rush arrive. He was too shell shocked from the earlier pressure to stand up and take the hit. Had he thrown the ball to the sideline, Cooks would have been the only player who could have caught the ball. Maybe the slip is what cause the ball to veer to the left, where Gilmore had an easy play.

But that’s how close the game was.

L is for Late

If someone told me before the game that the Rams defense would get NINE CONSECUTIVE STOPS (5 punts, 1 interception, 1 fourth down stop, 1 missed field goal and 1 field goal) against New England in the Super Bowl, and limit Tom Brady to 3 points until seven minutes were left in the game, I would have guessed the Rams would be up by three touchdowns.

Even if the Patriots had made that early field goal, a 6–0 lead for the team dominating the game early usually comes back to haunt them (like the Saints, for example). The Rams played a strange bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme that basically hoped Brady would get tired of throwing easy passes to Edelman for automatic first downs, and somehow it was working. I simply couldn’t understand why Aquib Talib was playing ten yards off a running back who then caught a simple pass in the flat and got a first down. Edelman caught 10 passes of which 8 went for first downs, and the Rams gave the Patriots another 4 first downs on penalties. That was 75% of the Patriots offense for three quarters of football.

Unfortunately, no defense can stay on the field under that much pressure (unless the opposing quarterback keeps missing open receivers and missing throws he made the entire year) for an entire game. The Rams’ pass rush finally wilted, and it cost them a touchdown as Gronkowski caught two passes for 47 yards of the Patriots 69-yard drive.

On the following drive from the 4 yard line (after the terrible Goff interception), the Patriots finally beat the exhausted and totally frustrated Rams defense on the ground (with the aid of a ridiculous hold on 2nd and 9 at the New England 5), gaining 72 yards on 9 straight rushes. Up to that point in the game, the Patriots had gained 82 on 23 carries.

I’ll say it again. The Rams defense was superb. They were on the field for 20 minutes in the first half and twice as many plays as the Patriots defense, but held Tom Brady to 3 points over the first 53 minutes of the Super Bowl.

Starting in the second quarter of the NFC Championship, the Rams gave up 13 points over a span of six quarters and one overtime facing Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That level of play would have been enough to win a Super Bowl against any team not coached by Bill Belichick.

L is for Lame

There’s no explanation for the Rams’ terrible offensive performance other than the poor preparation and play calling by Sean McVay. As he said afterwards he got outcoached by Belichick.

The Rams only used a two tight end formation briefly in the third quarter, and it looked promising, but McVay went back to his usual offense too quickly. The Rams never threw a pass to their tight ends. The Rams only threw one screen pass the entire game. The Rams didn’t try one trick play in the entire game.

There is absolutely no way that New England’s defense was better than New Orleans or Dallas. The Saints were #6, the Cowboys were #9, and the Patriots were #13. But against the Rams, they looked like the ’85 Bears.

Belichick did not invent the zone defense, which has been around for at least fifty years in the NFL, so there is no way that New England’s zone should have baffled McVay and Goff the way it did.

The problems for the Rams is they did not prepare for Belichick to completely change his defensive tendencies, and that is a coaching error by McVay. He also had an extra long halftime show to make adjustments, but didn’t find any answers.

L is for Loss

As disappointed as Rams fans are in not seeing their team win the Super Bowl (and as much as we all hate the Patriots, not for being so good, but from being so lucky over the years, and then cheating on top of that), I can’t say this can be described as particularly traumatic. Bill Simmons came up with his 13 levels of losing and I’d have to say this game was a Level 11 (The Alpha Dog).

The Alpha Dogs are Brady and Belichick, the greatest combination of quarterback and coach of all time, and they are inseparable. (I will never say one or the other is the GOAT in their respective field, even if they have the greatest combined winning record of all time. New England won 11 games with Matt Cassell. But without Brady and his below market contract, how does Belichick consistently build such great teams? On the other hand, Peyton Manning went down for a season and the Colts went 2–14.

This season, the Rams beat Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahommes and Drew Brees. And they made Tom Brady old and shaky for 50 minutes. Without Belichick’s brilliant defensive scheme and play calling, the Patriots would have lost this game by 20 points.

Instead, the game stayed close down to the last four minutes when Cooks dropped a touchdown pass, and Goff threw a terrible interception. If the game had been tied, Brady would have gotten the ball back with four minutes and we would be in the same place — dealing with the fear that he would engineer that one final drive that would provide the winning score, as he has done in five of his six Super Bowls wins.

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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