The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots. They’re in opposite corners of the country, and in some ways are as different as the regions they represent.
For the next two weeks, in the buildup to Super Bowl LIII, we’ll hear all about those differences.
For instance, Elias Sports Bureau notes that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Jared Goff have the largest age gap — 17 years, 72 days — of any starting quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history.
Same goes for the coaches, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and Rams’ Sean McVay, separated by a record 33 years, 283 days.
But these teams, both seeded No. 2, have distinct similarities as well. They both seemingly ran out of gas near the end of the season, had disheartening losses in Week 15, lost star offensive players, closed the season with two divisional wins over vastly inferior opponents, then stepped on the gas in the playoffs — especially with the way they got their running games going.
What’s more, both reached the Super Bowl by winning overtime thrillers on the road, the Rams at New Orleans and the Patriots at Kansas City.
“The odds were stacked against us,” Brady told reporters after Sunday’s 37-31 victory, which sent the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl in five years. “And it hasn’t been that way for us for a while. It certainly was for us this year. We started off so slow… The last four games have been our best games.”
By way of review: It looked like the wheels were coming off the Patriots when they lost at Pittsburgh on Dec.16. They were a shell of themselves, then lost star receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended indefinitely. The Patriots closed the regular season with home victories over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, but few observers read too deeply into that.
Rewind the Rams, and their story is similar. They suffered had consecutive December losses to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, and All-Pro running back Todd Gurley was sidelined because of a knee injury. They then finished the season with could-have-told-you-that wins over the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
Just as the Rams caught their second wind behind the running of C.J. Anderson, signed to take over for the recuperating Gurley, the Patriots have run more effectively as the season has progressed. New England has seen its rushing average climb from October (113.5 yards), to November (126.0), to December (147.4), then in the playoffs gained 155 against the Chargers and 176 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Not only have the Patriots not surrendered a sack of Brady in the playoffs. They didn’t have so much as a false start in the raucous noise of Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
“The last two weeks, we’ve been clicking well,” center David Andrews said Monday. “I thought it was a big challenge this week — no penalties, we didn’t do anything to hurt ourselves on the road and that was going to be a huge challenge with the noise and just that team has a good defense. So it was a big challenge. Our tackles have been playing lights out so hats off to those guys and us three on the inside have been holding our own. We’ve just got to keep going, keep moving forward and get back to work here this week.”
Likewise, the Rams’ offensive line has been outstanding, especially in the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys when Anderson and a refreshed Gurley were the stars of a 273-yard rushing performance.
Those two didn’t run as effectively against the New Orleans Saints, but Goff had a Brady-like performance to lead his team to victory.
Like receivers running stop-and-go routes, these two teams looked as though they might be finished, then found a way to reignite the jets.
“Here they are again in the Super Bowl playing their best ball when it matters the most,” McVay said Monday of the Patriots. “Really impressed with watching what they did against the Chargers with how good and how complete the Chargers were as a team. Then, to go into Arrowhead and do what they did, unbelievable. So, it's going to be fun, but it's going to be a great challenge for us without a doubt.”
The Patriots could say the same. And will over the next two weeks. Over and over.