ATLANTA_Wade Phillips brought a game plan to the Super Bowl to defeat the New England Patriots.
But Sean McVay must have forgotten his.
Phillips is the defensive coordinator of the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams. McVay is the head coach and offensive play caller of the Rams.
The scheming of Phillips held the Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots to a single field goal through the game’s first 53 minutes -- but the disappearance of McVay’s high-scoring offense allowed the Patriots to escape with a 13-3 victory and their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The Rams were the second-highest scoring team in the NFL this season and the 11th highest-scoring offense in NFL history. Los Angeles averaged 32.4 points per game on the way to its first NFC championship since 2001.
Los Angeles slapped 54 points on Kansas City and 48 more on San Francisco in regular-season games, then ousted East champion Dallas with 30 points and South champion New Orleans with 26 points in the NFC playoffs. Quarterback Jared Goff and halfback Todd Gurley were both voted to the Pro Bowl as catalysts of an offense that ranked second in yards, third in rushing and fifth in passing this season.
Offense wasn’t going to be the concern for the Rams against the Patriots. Defense was. Could the Rams pressure a five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who was seemingly immune to pressure and thus slow down the NFL’s fourth highest-scoring offense?
The answer was yes. The Rams slowed Brady and the Patriots all night long. But McVay brought an empty offensive bucket to the game. Los Angeles punted to end their first eight possessions and wound up punting nine times in the game.
The inability to hold onto the football on offense – the Rams managed only two first downs in the first half – forced the Los Angeles defense to stay on the field for almost 34 minutes. And Wade’s bunch finally wore down in the closing minutes, allowing a 59-yard drive for the winning touchdown with seven minutes remaining and a 72-yard drive for an insurance field goal with a minute left.
Still, when you hold an opponent to 13 points in an NFL game, you expect to win. Especially when it’s the Patriots. The 13 points were the fewest New England has scored in a victory since the second week of the 2013 season (13-10 triumph over the Jets). It also was the fewest points ever scored by a Super Bowl champion.
But no such expectation can exist when your offense decides to take the night off.
Goff was a 65 percent passer who threw for 4,688 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions during the regular season. But that wasn’t the quarterback who showed up for the Super Bowl. Goff completed only nine of 21 passes through three quarters for 96 yards. But the L.A. defense was hanging tough and the game staggered into the fourth quarter tied at 3-3.
The Patriots took a 10-3 lead on a short touchdown run by Sony Michel with seven minutes left and the Rams finally flashed some offense in the next possession with a chance to tie the game. Goff completed passes of 19 and 17 yards to Brandin Cooks and 11 yards to Josh Reynolds. But on second down from the New England 27, Goff underthrew a go-route to Cooks and it was intercepted by New England’s Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore inside the 5.
And that was the old ball game. It was only the second game of the two-year McVay era that the Rams failed to score a touchdown.
"As somebody that feels like you are responsible for the offense, for putting up points and doing a better job -- that's where I really feel I let down our team because of the way our defense played," McVay said. "Our defensive coaches put together a great game plan. I really loved the way our defense competed."
The Rams' defense intercepted Brady on New England’s first possession of the game and also sacked him for the first time this post-season. The Patriots did collect 22 first downs and 407 yards but the Rams managed to get off the field at critical times, limiting New England to just three third-down conversions in 12 tries.
The game was there for the Rams to win – if they could muster any kind of offense. But they couldn’t.
Gurley finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,251 yards and caught 59 passes. He rushed for 17 touchdowns and scored four more TDs on receptions. But that wasn’t the running back who showed up for the Super Bowl. Gurley rushed 10 times for 35 yards against the Patriots and caught just one pass for a loss of a yard. It was only the third time in 18 games that Gurley failed to reach the end zone this season.
Phillips came to the game with some answers for the New England offense but McVay brought none for the New England defense. And a team that lived with its offense all season died with its offense in the Super Bowl.