Top takeaways from Super Bowl LIII

It’s all over and done with. The 2018-19 NFL season came to a ho-hum conclusion with the New England Patriots defeating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday evening in Atlanta.

All of the excitement that came with a two-week wait for the big game culminated in one of the lowest-scoring first halves in Super Bowl history. Struggles by both Tom Brady and Jared Goff gave way to a 3-0 halftime score.

When all was said and done in Atlanta on Sunday evening, New England came out on top by the score of 13-3. It’s a game that saw Sean McVay struggle big time calling plays against Bill Belichick and Co. And on the other side of the ball, the Patriots struggled to score until the final quarter of action.

Here are your biggest takeaways from New England’s sixth Super Bowl championship under the wizardry of Brady and Belichick.

Patriots dynasty continues 

It wasn’t pretty at times. Tom Brady struggled to get things going before helping his team to 10 fourth quarter points. The likes of Rob Gronkowski, James White and Sony Michel were largely held in check. But when all was said and done Sunday night in Atlanta, Mr. Brady earned a record sixth Super Bowl title.

More than anything, it was the performance we saw from Bill Belichick, Brian Flores and the Patriots’ defense that made the difference here. But we still can’t take away just how dominant this team has been under the leadership of Tom Brady. He just continues to win at a clip we’ve never seen in the modern history of the NFL.

Stage was too big for Jared Goff

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It’s something we focused on a ton in the lead up to Sunday’s big game. Was the stage in Atlanta going to be too big for this third-year quarterback? That question was answered early with the Rams putting up 57 total yards, two first downs and exactly zero points prior to halftime. For his part, Goff completed just 5-of-12 passes with 32 net passing yards in the first two quarters.

Goff did have his Rams driving late in the fourth quarter to potentially tie the game up. That’s when the young quarterback made a rookie mistake. He floated the ball up to Brandin Cooks in double coverage. All-Pro Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore intercepted it — pretty much ending the game in the process. Just a horrible all-around performance from Goff in the biggest game of his career.

Pats struggle to get James White involved

The AFC Championship Game saw this veteran running back come up with third-down conversation after third-down conversion on the ground. He also dominated to the tune of 15 catches for 97 yards in the AFC Divisional Playoffs win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Whether it was the Rams’ solid defensive scheme or something completely different, this didn’t take hold in the Super Bowl.

White caught just one pass out of the backfield and added four rushing yards in a surprisingly ineffective performance for the birthday boy. New England focused more on Julian Edelman creating mismatches underneath against the Rams’ defense. Even then, it was pretty surprising to see how little White was involved in this one.

Wade Phillips dials up amazing scheme

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most underrated stories heading into Super Bowl LIII was the brilliance of Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. His scheme worked perfectly against Dak Prescott in the divisional round, forcing the quarterback to beat his defense. Then, in the NFC Championship Game, Los Angeles’ defense pretty much shut down the Drew Brees and Michael Thomas connection.

What was apparent Sunday in Atlanta was that Phillips would force Tom Brady to dink-and-dunk his way down the field. Whether it was bracket coverage or taking away the boundary, Brady had a heck of a time driving the ball down the field. Los Angeles also dialed up a ton of pressure against a quarterback that had not been sacked in the postseason heading into Sunday’s game. Despite the loss, Phillips’ scheme proved extremely effective in this one.

It was just a bad football game

After two weeks of anticipation and story after story about the game, both the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots disappointed us at every turn. As noted above, Jared Goff was downright horrible for the Rams. Equally as shocking, Tom Brady might have put up the worst performance of his playoff career. Dropped passes, penalties and missed opportunities defined the majority of the game.

When all was said and done, New England came out on top in one of the most brutal offensive showings in Super Bowl history. Sure we can say the defenses played well. They did. Both coordinators did their thing. Even then, the game itself might have been the most disappointing in NFL Playoff history. Can fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium get a refund? We’re asking for tens of thousands of fans.

Todd Gurley was a complete non-factor

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) warms up before Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was made of Sean McVay’s lack of usage of the All-Pro running back in the conference championship game. Was Gurley still battling a knee injury that cost him the final two regular season games? If not, was something else going on? We still don’t have a complete answer to these two questions. What we do know is that Gurley was a non-factor in Super Bowl LIII.

After seeing one touch in the Rams’ first possession, Gurley didn’t see the ball until late in the second quarter. All said, the dynamic back put up 10 yards on three attempts in the first three quarters. He didn’t see a whole lot more action as the game progressed — tallying 35 yards on 10 attempts. We’re sure to find out here soon exactly what was going on behind the scenes with Gurley. But one thing is clear. His inability to make any real impact cost the Rams big time.

Where was Brandin Cooks?

It goes without saying that Cooks wanted to exact revenge against the team that traded him to the Rams less than a calendar year ago. That just didn’t come to fruition. Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore played like the All-Pro that he is — holding Cooks to all of two catches in the first half alone.

It goes without saying that Cooks wanted to exact revenge against the team that traded him to the Rams less than a calendar year ago. That just didn’t come to fruition. Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore played like the All-Pro that he is — holding Cooks to all of two catches in the first half alone.

One of the Rams’ most expensive players came up absolutely small in the game’s grandest of stages. Two weeks after tallying 107 yards on seven catches against another former team, Cooks caught just 8-of-13 targets for 120 yards in the Rams’ loss. Most of that came with the game decided late in the final stanza. Prior to that, Cooks dropped what would have been a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Just brutal.

Tom Brady did not play well, period!

When it counted the most Sunday night, Mr. Brady came up big time en route to earning his record sixth Lombardi Trophy. But prior to the game-winning 60-yard touchdown drive in the four quarter, the future Hall of Famer struggled big time. It will be lost in the narrative because the Patriots came out on top. In no way does this mean it should be ignored.

Brady had issues getting the ball downfield to his receivers on a consistent basis. He struggled with the interior pressure Los Angeles was providing. In the end, the game’s best quarterback completed 21-of-35 passes for 262 yards without a touchdown in a ho-hum overall performance. Sure the Pats came out on top, but that had more to do with the team’s performance on defense.

By: Vincent Frank

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Top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday

The drama and intrigue we were missing from the divisional round showed up in a big way during NFL Championship Sunday.

It started with the Los Angeles Rams winning in controversial fashion against the Saints in New Orleans. Jared Goff and the Rams might have come back from a two-score deficit, but it’s the officials who became the story in the Bayou.

Once the Rams punched their ticket to Atlanta, the New England Patriots did battle with the Chiefs in Kansas City. In a game that saw Tom Brady’s squad dominate early, the Chiefs came out like gangbusters in the second half. In the end, New England won by the score of 37-31 in another overtime affair and will now match wits with the Rams in next month’s Super Bowl.

Here are the top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday.

Jared Goff proves skeptics wrong at every turn

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Taking on a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, he had to go tit-for-tat with one of the game’s best on the road in the biggest moment of his life.

Goff came up absolutely huge at the end — leading the Rams on three consecutive scoring drives to help the team to an overtime win. That span saw him complete 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards. New Orleans gained a total of 63 yards during this stretch of action.

It wasn’t just that Goff put up the numbers. He made crucial throw after crucial throw, including a bomb to tight end Gerald Everett with pretty much everything on the line.

Sunday represented a coming-out party for this former No. 1 pick, and many were left eating crow

Josh McDaniels’ game plan was perfection defined

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels watches warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers
in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

McDaniels and the Patriots knew that going into Arrowhead in January would be a tough task for their offense. This unit is limited by a lack of elite play makers on the outside. Whether it’s statistically or on tape, Tom Brady has regressed to an extent this season. New England needed to change things up on offense after showing tremendous balance last week against the Chargers.

That’s exactly what we saw early and often Sunday against the Chiefs. We saw New England run multiple times on 3rd-and-3-plus — picking up a first down with James White on a consistent basis. New England also utilized the passing game as an extension of the run throughout this game. That is to say, relatively easy throws from Brady out on the flat.

The end result was a workmanlike performance from an offense that converted on 13-of-19 third-down opportunities in New England’s narrow overtime win over the Chiefs. Despite the perception some might have of of McDaniels, there’s a reason he continues to be a hot head-coaching commodity.

Officials created a mess in New Orleans

It was pretty apparent throughout the NFC Championship Game that officials were going to let the defenses body their counterparts. We saw this come to fruition multiple times in the first half alone, but it was this non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that left everyone in New Orleans stunned.

It was third down with New Orleans driving for a potential go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. If this had been called, the Saints would’ve been able to run down the clock and kick said field goal with no time left. Instead, this gave the ball back to Los Angeles for an opportunity to tie the game. Once that happened, the Rams came out on top in overtime.

We’re not going to sit back here and say that officiating cost the home-standing Saints a shot at the Super Bowl, but they certainly did not help. That was about the most blatant pass interference we’ve seen go uncalled in a long time.

Patrick Mahomes is now a steady veteran?

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws the ball during the first quarter of the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the major stories heading into the AFC Championship Game was Mahomes taking on the GOAT Tom Brady. Would experience win out in this one or was it time for this second-year signal caller to announce his presence on the larger NFL stage?

It didn’t go too swimmingly for the Chiefs early on. They put up less than 50 total yards of offense in the first half alone. This is when Mahomes proved he’s not a wide-eyed young quarterback that crumbles under the pressure.

Instead, Mahomes went tit-for-tat with Brady in the second half — tallying 250-plus passing yards in leading Kansas City into a close game after falling down 14-0 at the half. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an opportunity to touch the ball in overtime. That doesn’t take away from what he did as a sophomore this season.

Saints run game nonexistent

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs the ball against the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

By: Vincent Frank

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Winners and losers from the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL playoffs

The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.

Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.

The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.

On Sunday, the Patriots had no problems running around and through the Chargers, winning 41-28 to lock down their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game.

The Saints turned aside the Eagles, sinking their hope of a Super Bowl repeat with a 20-14 win in New Orleans. The Saints will host the Rams there next weekend.

Winner: Michael Thomas

The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1084599206159908864

He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.

Loser: Nick Foles’ magic

You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.

With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.

Winner: Time of possession

It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.

It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 10-14, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.

Winner: The Patriots defense

Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.

Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy

He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.

Winner: Patriots running backs

The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.

Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns … in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.

The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.

Winner: C.J. Anderson

The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.

Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.

Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this:

All the Winners and Losers here

 

 

Which top NFL playoff team is at biggest risk of divisional-round upset?

An upset alert shouldn’t be necessary to make the top-seeded teams in the NFL playoffs aware of the imminent threat facing them this weekend.

Three of the four outfits that advanced from last week’s wild-card round, after all, did so on the road. And only once this decade (in 2015) have the top two seeds on each side advanced to the conference championship games.

But while this weekend’s traveling teams collectively posted a 18-14 mark as visitors this season, the foursome of teams hosting after a first-round bye (the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams) combined for a 28-4 record at home.

In light of that, we asked our NFL experts: Which team coming off a first-round bye is at the biggest risk of falling in a divisional-round upset?

Nancy Armour

I love Patrick Mahomes and everything he’s done for the Chiefs this season, and would like to think he’s going to be the one to end Kansas City’s long, long, long history of playoff heartbreak. Especially against the Indianapolis Colts. But until it actually happens, I can’t ignore the karma. Kansas City has lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games – that one victory came against Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans – and is 0-4 against Indianapolis in the postseason. That includes the most crushing loss of all, the 2013 wild-card game in which Kansas City blew a 28-point lead and lost 45-44. Mahomes and Andy Reid have said all the right things this week, but I’m going to have to see it to believe it.

Jarrett Bell

The Chiefs. After watching all three quarterbacks who made their playoff debuts last weekend lose, that’s not a good omen for projected MVP Patrick Mahomes. No, the NFL-record 6 consecutive playoff home losses by KC isn’t on Mahomes…who wasn’t even born the last time the home team won in the playoffs at Arrowhead. But there’s just something spooky about that. Add Capt. Andrew Luck maybe carving up a suspect Chiefs defense, and I think we might see this No. 1 seed bite the dust. Of course, Mr. 50 Touchdowns has spent an entire season proving doubters wrong. And on a personal note, Andy Reid has made me look foolish multiple times when picking against him. But to borrow phrasing from my former colleague, Gordon Forbes, I just can’t shake the feeling KC’s season is about to be BBQ’d.

Nate Davis

Maybe the question for the bye week playoff teams should be, “Who’s not at risk?” All of them feel fairly vulnerable to me with the exception of New Orleans. But maybe the Rams are in the most jeopardy. Their “home” game threatens to be overrun by Cowboys fans and a team that seems well-equipped to pull off the upset at the L.A. Coliseum, where the Rams lost their wild-card contest to the Falcons a year ago. Dallas just locked down Seattle’s top-ranked ground game and will next face Todd Gurley, who’s probably going to be less than 100% after a knee issue forced him to miss two games. More worrisome, as much talent as the Rams defense has, it surrendered a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry … and is now tasked with slowing league rushing champ Zeke Elliott and highly mobile QB Dak Prescott? Gulp.

Jori Epstein

The Rams. The Cowboys’ top-5 run D is riding momentum after holding the Seahawks – 160 yards per game in the regular season – to 73 in a wildcard win. Rams all-pro running back Todd Gurley, on the other hand, is returning from nearly a month on the sideline with knee inflammation and soreness. Dallas will have its hand full containing an offense that’s averaged 37.1 points at their home Coliseum. Dak Prescott, too, must take care not to turn over the ball. But if the team follows the blueprint it used to hold the ball 9:40 more than the Seahawks last week, Ezekiel Elliott can capitalize on a Rams defense allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry. Add in the star-studded Cowboys fans expected to line the Coliseum? Dallas upsets a young L.A. offense to reach its first NFC Championship Game in 23 years.

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