Act like you’ve been there. As a fan of the New England Patriots, it’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot over the last 18 or so years. When this incredible run of championships started in 2001, the Patriots were underdogs. By the end of Super Bowl 39, they were a dynasty. Now, after the confetti has been swept from the field of Super Bowl 53, they are an Evil Empire. Six rings in nine Super Bowls and 13 AFC Championship Game appearances in the last 18 seasons.
Last night, as the game developed, I was trying to act like I had been there before. I was looking for something familiar to ease my stress. Something that I could lock onto and say “This game is just like the one from 2003 or 04, or 14.” But that moment never came. The defensive showcase was violent and well thought to a fault. An unexpected gem from the past in a year of offensive innovation.
The game was either tied or separated by one score up until the final minute of the fourth quarter. While it was not filled with offensive highlights, the defenses put together a blueprints that are sure to analyzed for next year when the two high octane offenses are scouted for regular season games. It was still entertaining, but I’d argue it was more of a stressful watch than I had seen in some time. Unlike all of the games of the past where I felt a score could be matched with a score, the Super Bowl had a real sense of first mistake loses by the time the third quarter started. It didn’t feel like Tom was about to start driving them down the field and match the Rams point for point. But to the credit of the Patriots defense, he never had to.
We hadn’t seen New England’s defense slow down an offense like the Rams in the Super Bowl since Super Bowl 36, and even then, the wheels came off that gameplan when the Rams exploded for 14 fourth quarter points. The wheels never came off this gameplan. The constant disguising of blitzes and incredibly tight secondary play made throwing the ball impossible, and running the ball was met with a similar sense of failure for the Rams.
When the Patriots started their drive with a little under ten minutes remaining in the game and the score was 3-3, a sense of irony began to set in–At this point, there would be no blaming the defense for any possible loss. Why is this ironic? Because it was only a year ago that Tom Brady managed to eclipse 500 yards passing in Super Bowl 52, but it wasn’t enough to save the struggling defense that gave up 41 points to the Eagles. There were times in Super Bowl 52 where it felt like the defense was almost intentionally bad, but now, they were the only thing saving the great Tom Brady and the vaunted offense from looking like chumps. Super Bowl 53 was the Yin to 52’s Yang.
No sooner did I see the poetry at hand, did Brady and the offense start cooking. Four throws to Gronkowski, Edelman, Burkhead, and again Gronk put the Patriots in position quickly to score…and Sony Michel did. Sony’s two yard touchdown run put New England in the lead 10-3. The players that had done it for the Patriots all year and all dynasty did it for one more drive.
When the Rams began driving after the ensuing kickoff with seven minutes remaining, I once again reverted to trying to find a sense of familiarity. I was convinced after Goff’s quick chuck play to Cooks that the gates had opened. Scoring for the Rams was inevitable. Much like the end of the half against Carolina in 38 or Seattle in 49, this was about to turn into a seven minute track meet. But then, with 4:17 left the NFL’s best cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepted Jarred Goff inside the Patriot five yard line. Much like the great Ty Law before him Number 24 sealed a big game with a big interception.
A textbook drive followed the interception and the game was out of reach after Stephen Gostkowski capitalized on the closest moment he’s had to a Vinatieri moment making it 13-3. The final minute of irrelevant Super Bowl football was a welcome change to the previous nail biting experiences that came down to the last play. I suppose it’s fitting that the biggest margin of victory came when the team scored it’s fewest points in a Super Bowl.
The charm of being a Patriots fan is knowing that you’ll be busy on Sundays late into January every year. The luxury of being a Patriots fan is assuming you’ll be attending a parade early every February. You have a right to brag. Your team is the best and most dominant dynasty of all time. There isn’t an argument. You also need to realize that you are the bad guys. While these games are poetic and sweet to us, to everyone else, it’s an extension of an unelected reign. And this reign will end. So cherish it. And don’t worry about acting like you’ve been there for the “next one.” Didn’t do me any good.